Betsie stumbled in through the front door, furled her umbrella and stripped off her raincoat. The first rainstorm of spring was always a doozy!
“Grandma, have you seen Susan today?”
“Ya! In da basement.”
“What’s she doing this time?”
“Vell, dis time she ist buildingk a maksheen!”
“What kind of machine?”
“I dunno. I dunno vat dat liddle gorl ist doingk half da time anyvays.”
“Well, she is pretty smart...”
“Priddy schmardt? Priddy schmardt? Let me tell you somt'ing: Dat liddle gorl ist da schmartest liddle gorl dat I've ever heard uff!”
“Grandma, she's nineteen. She's not a little girl!” said Betsie. Susan was her best friend, but grandma was “Grandma” to everyone.
“I dun't care about dat! To me, she vill alvays be my liddle gorl!”
Betsie just shrugged. Once grandma locked on to an idea, it was impossible to shake her off. She looked up as Susan entered the room. Susan always made an entrance.
“Hi Betsie, darling! How are you doing?” Susan beamed her billion-kilowatt smile.
“Grandma says you have a new project going on in the basement. Whatcha building?”
“Oh, a time machine." Susan looked about as nonchalant as anyone ever had.
“A time machine? Haha! Come on! Are you serious?”
“Right!” Betsie hoped she hid the epic eye-roll. Susan's piercing blue eyes were enigmatic. “What are you going to do with it?”
Susan shrugged. “I dunno. Time-travel, I guess.”
“Time travel!” Betsie laughed.
“Come and look!”
They made their way to the doorway in the back of the kitchen and down the steep staircase to the cool basement.
“Dun't you make fun o' her!” said grandma, sharply. She was standing at the top of the stairway. Navigating stairs was somewhat problematical with her arthritic knees.
“I'm not, Grandma!”
Susan leaned both hands on the edge of the bench. It was covered in a jumble of parts, machines and half-finished projects. She smiled; satisfied, apparently, then spun delicately to face Betsie. “Well, what do you think?” Her waves of strawberry-blond hair shone in the dim light.
“About what?” Betsie had no idea which object in the jumble she was supposed to look at.
“The time machine.”
“Umm, where is it?”
“Right here!” Susan pointed to a spot on the workbench.
“This!” Susan picked up a cigarette-pack sized plastic box from amid the rubble of the bench-top. Tiny red, yellow and green lights flashed seemingly at random. There was some cryptic writing next to the buttons on the side that Betsie couldn't decipher.
“That's a time machine?”
“Yes! Why? Are you surprised?” said Susan.
“Well, kinda. I just thought it would be bigger.”
“I solved the spatial-displacement problem too, with a special transmogrifier.” said Susan. Betsie had rarely seen her look so pleased.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, the Earth is moving around the Sun.”
“Okay, the Earth and our solar system are moving around the galaxy at about 220 kilometres per second. That means, if you go back in time to this spot we're at right now, there's nothing there. Also, the galaxy itself is moving toward something called ‘The Great Attractor’. That adds even more distance from the place where the Earth was 200 years ago. So, if you went back in time - say 200 years - at this very spot, there wouldn't be anything here at all.”
“Nothing! You'd just be dumped out into empty space. But my transmogrifier solves that. It puts you where Earth is in whatever time period you choose.”
“So, it's also a spaceship?”
“Mmmmm... not really. More of a temporal and spacial displacement device.”
“Well, that sounds pretty cool. So um... could we try it out?”
“Sure! Where do you want to go? Or 'when' I guess I should say.”
“That sounds like wonderful fun!”
“We're gonna need some money.”
“I have just the thing!” Susan glanced at the top of the staircase. Grandma was gone; probably wandered back to her chair in the living-room. “Grandma has some gold coins she's had hidden away for decades,” she said, quietly. “I know where they are.”
“She'll kill us if she finds out!” said Betsie.
“Don't worry. What we're about to bring back will more than make up for it!” said Susan.
“Well...” Betsie knew better than to argue. “OK.”
Susan was about as stubborn a person as she'd ever met. Once she made up her mind, there was no stopping her.
They made their way swiftly through the house to grandma's room. “She keeps her valuables under the bed,” said Susan.
“This box?” Betsie was already reaching under there, groping for and pulling out, a big dusty box.
“Yes! That one! Let's see it. Set it up here. See? Down in the bottom.” Susan rifled through the contents until her fingers met two antique twenty dollar gold pieces. “These are worth like two thousand dollars in today's money. Now we need some clothes,” said Susan.
“In her old closet in the attic! Where we used to play when we were little!” said Betsie
They made their way up yet another stairway to a small door, only half the height of a regular door, but once they stooped inside, they found that they could stand up again within the peak of the roof.
“Look at these!” said Betsie
“These dresses are spectacular!” said Susan
“Ohmygod! They ARE!” said Betsie
“Look! They’re so heavy!” said Susan, handing a dress to Betsie.
“OHMYGOD YES!” said Betsie.
“And these corsets!” said Susan.
“They’re so tiny! How could anyone fit into them?” said Betsie
“We’re about to find out!” said Susan
“Look at these shoes! These high-heels are as steep as step-ladders!” said Betsie
“Do you think you can walk in them?” said Susan.
“I suspect we’re about to find that out too!” said Betsie.
“I suspect you’re right! Pick out what you want, then let's hurry and get back down to my room and get dressed!” said Susan.
With their new stash of vintage clothes, they scampered downstairs to the bedroom, quickly stripped off their 21st century duds and struggled into their newly-acquired 19th century outfits.
“Turn around. I'll lace you in to your corset and then you can lace me into mine,” said Susan.
They grunted and wheezed their way into the unfamiliar corsets, which were themselves, feeling vastly more familiar once they were properly laced in. It was hard to imagine anything more familiar.
“Okay, I think we're ready,” Susan gasped. The corset was a bit tighter than she'd first realized. “Let's set the transmogrifier to 1890. What city?”
“Okay... Do you have those gold pieces?”
“Yes. Right here,” Betsie said, gesturing toward her cleavage.
“Good! Cuz I have a feeling we're going to need them. Here we go then!” Susan pressed the transmogrifier button. Everything went blank.
They POOFED into existence in an alley in Denver, Colorado, 1890, just as the sheriff strode around the corner and into the alley. He looked them up and down briefly. “Excuse me, ladies! How can I be of assistance?”
“I, uh... we're okay. Thank you though.”
“Yes, yes. We're fine! Thank you!” Betsie smiled sweetly.
“Y'all talk kinda strange. Y'all ain't from around here, are ya?”
“Well, no not really. We're new in town.” This was bad. The last thing they needed was to get involved with the law. The ladies did their very best to retain their composure.
“Where's ya'll's husbands?”
“We're uh, not married.”
“Then where is your father?” asked the sheriff.
“Heeeeee... didn't come with us,” said Susan, now beginning to feel a bit apprehensive. What was with this guy anyway?
“Two women, out unescorted, in an alley. This is mighty unusual. What sort of business might ya'll be inta?”
“We're ummm... dressmakers.”
“Do tell.” The sheriff nodded slowly. “Where are your samples? Where's your sewing machine?”
“Oh! Well that's all coming on the next train.”
“Is it now?” the sheriff appeared more than somewhat skeptical. “I think I know what your profession really is and I'm going to warn you, we don't take kindly to women like you in our town.”
“Of all the damned nerve!” snapped Susan.
“I beg your pardon, ma'am?” said the sheriff, curtly.
“Of all the damned nerve! You just assume we're hookers because there are no men with us? How dare you!”
“Oh, I don't think you're hookers ma'am. I think you're whores. If you were hookers, you'd have your rugs and tools with you, now wouldn't you? Or is that on the next train too?”
Betsie whispered to Susan, “He doesn't know what a hooker is?”
“I know!” Susan whispered back. “Just keep quiet and let's get out of here!”
“Y'all are gonna hafta come with me!” said the sheriff.
“On what charge?”
“But you don't have any evidence!”
“I seen the evidence right in front of me: Two women, unescorted, all alone, in an alley. What more evidence could I possibly need?” The sheriff leaned forward and spoke in a very slow monotone as though he were addressing a pair of backward two year-olds. “Come -- with -- me!” he said. And then: “If’n ya’ll try to escape, I'll just deputize me a posse’ and come and find y’all. You won't get far. A couple o’ women lookin’ like y’all do is bound to attract a lot of attention.”
The two looked at each other and shrugged. What else was there to do? They doubted that even the pair of them could beat the sheriff in a fight with their crippling corsets on while weighed down in the heavy layers of their dresses.
Women really were helpless in those days, thought Susan. And now we are women in those days!
So, they did they only thing they could do: walked peacefully and quietly and gracefully as they could manage, ahead of the sheriff, off to jail.
“Just use the transmogrifier and get us the heck out of here!” whispered Betsie.
“I can't!” said Susan. “It needs twenty-four hours to recharge after each use.”
“Ohhh!” Betsie whined. “What are we gonna do?”
“No talking ladies!” said the sheriff.
They both turned to give him a dirty look, but said no more.
Soon, they approached the disheveled jail-house. A deputy was in there, who had obviously been watching, for as they approached, he opened the door briskly and held it for them as the somber trio trooped inside.
“Howdy-do ma'am!” said the deputy, twice. The women looked at him but said nothing. The sheriff motioned them toward an empty cell. The deputy slammed the cell door and locked it.
This was awkward. How to sit down in a painfully-tight corset? There's always a way. Betsie helped Susan sort of lounge on the bed, leaning against the wall. Susan, in turn, helped Betsie to ease herself down to the bed as well. Neither were sure they could get up again, but they'd cross that bridge when they came to it. They sat together, stiffly, in their bulky dresses on the racid bed, and began to weep.
“What're we gonna do? What're we gonna do?” Betsie wailed.
“Shhh! This is no time for a meltdown!” said Susan, although she too was at her wit's end. But seeing that tears, obviously, weren't going to help their situation, she composed herself with some effort and began to ponder their plight.
“There's gotta be a way out of here, we just have to think of what it is!”
But try as they might, they couldn't think of a way.
As the hours wore on they became increasingly weary and eventually succumbed to exhaustion, falling asleep on the filthy bed, still in their clothes.
Susan awoke in the early morning. “Betsie? Are you awake?”
“Kind of. My middle is killing me. Do you think there is someway we could take these corsets off?”
“Considering the circumstances, I don't think we should be taking any clothes off. Especially not in here where everyone can see us!”
Betsie just shrugged, resigned - necessarily - to her cruel fate. “I just thought maybe... you know how you can take your bra off without taking off your top? I was hoping there was something like that.”
Susan shook her head slowly. “I don't think so. At least, I can't think of anything.”
Soon an officious but kindly-looking woman bustled in through the front door.
“Vere's da prisoners, Clem?” she said in an accent so thick, the two women could barely understand her. She had a dramatic mane of jet-black hair, rosey lips and cheeks - striking - against her pale complexion.
“Oh! Hi, Zelda! Right there. In the middle cell,” he called from a back room somewhere.
She stepped around the corner. “Gott im Himmel! De're gorgeous! Vere did you find dem?”
“Found ‘em in an alley. They claimed to be hookers, but I knew right away they were whores.”
Susan just shook her head earnestly. “We're not,” was all she said.
The woman nodded sagely. “Ya! Dotts goot t'inking!” she said to Clem. “Vhat are you goingk to do vit dem?”
“Put 'em in the stocks, I think. In the town square.”
“ ‘Put ‘em in stocks’?!?” Betsie whispered to Susan, her voice cracking with fear. “Did he say he's going to put us in stocks?”
“Yes! That's what he said!” Panic had sent Susan's voice up a couple of octaves as well.
“Oh shit! Oh fuck no! We gotta get outa here!” Betsie shrieked in near-silent whisper.
“I dunno I dunno!”
“We have to stay calm! We have to think!” Susan whispered, shrilly.
“Hey! I wouldn't go in there alone with those two!” said Clem. “They're mighty dangerous!”
“I'll be okay, Clem,” Zelda called back.
“Is the transmogrifier charged up?” Betsie whispered.
“Yes, but it takes several seconds to activate. If Zelda, I mean Grandma, comes in here, she's going with us. That's the last thing we need!”
“Now you girls be nice, or your gonna end up in big trouble, okay?” Zelda said. With key in hand and she opened the door briskly, pulling it shut after her.
“The sheriff is claiming that we're prostitutes, but we're not,” Susan said. “We're just travelers. We're umm... we're writing a book about the West and the different towns here.”
“Yes, that's right! A book!” Betsie said.
Zelda nodded solemnly. Then her eyes were drawn to the center of Susan's rather pronounced bosom; something dark and shiny, way down in that cleft.
“Oh! Vhat's dis?” Zelda's hand darted deeply into Susan abundant cleavage. Susan squirmed uncomfortably, yelping in protest. “Stop it!” She tried to push Zelda away, and succeeded, but not before the older lady withdrew a small, dark box with brightly-lit LEDs along the side.
“Aha! I knew you vas hidingk somezing!” Zelda triumphant glee was unmistakable.
“Hey! Give that back!”
“Firsdt you haf to tell me, vhat is it?”
“It's something we need to get us home!”
“Vhy do you need to go home?”
“Because someone very close to us loves us very much and wants desperately for us to return.” Susan's piercing look riveted Zelda for a moment.
“Vhat does it do?”
The blond felt herself gasping for air while trying to conceal that she was more than a bit panicked and didn’t want Zelda to know. She made her best effort. “I can't tell you. But someday you'll know and you’ll be grateful. I promise. Please!” Susan begged. “I don’t have much, but I have these.” She showed Zelda the two gold coins. “I’ll give them to you if you’ll give me the box back.”
Zelda hesitated for a moment, and then handed back the box. “I t'ink you are telling da truth. So, vhat does it do?”
“Thank you! Thank you, more than you'll ever know,” Susan said. She was nearly in tears as was Betsie. "It's a really special artifact. One that we would be lost without."
“I t’ought you said you needed it to go home,” said Zelda. “Is dat vhat you need? Vhy?”
“We do!” said Susan. “But uh, first we need to discuss something amongst ourselves. Just the two of us. Could you please wait in the next room for us?”
“Eh!” Zelda shrugged. “Vhy not? But dun't you two try anyt’ing. You’re not going anyvhere anyvay.” With that, she put the coins in her cleavage, left the cell, locked the door and toddled obediently around the corner.
Betsie watched her go with obvious relief. “Great!” she whispered. “Now let's get out of here!”
“As you wish!” said Susan with a huge sigh. The tension in the room had just dropped about a thousand percent. But they weren't out of the woods yet. Just then, they heard Clem call out to Zelda. “Are those girls still locked up?”
“Ya, Clem! Dey ist!”
“Good! Whatever you do, don’t let them out. They might be witches!”
Susan and Betsie exchanged glances. “Witches?” Susan shrugged, dialed in the correct spacetime coordinates and held the transmogrifier up, ready to push the button.
“There's just one thing I have to ask you before we go.”
“Will you marry me?”
Betsie blushed and then smiled the brightest smile anyone had ever seen. “Oh Susan! You've just made me the happiest girl in the world! Of course I'll marry you!” And their kiss was one of the epic kisses of all time!
In mid-kiss, Susan pushed the button. With a mighty POOF, the two women vanished, and materialized back home with effortless je ne sais quoi.
Back in Grannie's room once again, Susan checked the stash box. “We have to make sure.”
She rummaged around in the bottom. “Here they are!” she said, finally, and held up the two gold coins. “Just as I thought. All is as it was, once again.”
“Wow! That's amazing!” said Betsie
“So, was it worth it?”
“Was it worth it?” Betsie echoed. “Ohmygod! Yes! YES!”