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The Newest Form of Travel

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Benjamin was the butt of everyone’s jokes. It wasn’t that he was dumb. Just livin’ on some other planet. The town council was embarrassed to have a 26-year-old sittin’ on a bench all day in front of the court house, so they gave him a job polishin’ cannonballs piled beside the Civil War 10-pounder there. But a week later, Benjamin announced he was quittin’. “I found my own cannonball and I’m goin’ into business for myself,” he told the mayor.

 

They hooted at that.

It got quiet for awhile and people noticed he had his nose in a book he’d taken from Ralph’s Barber Shop. It was that old H.G. Wells' thing about time travel. Well, hell, no one minded long as he was out of people’s hair.

I personally liked Benjamin. Encouraged him to go to the library and read and help carry boxes around. “That Wells was an interestin’ writer,” I said. “Nowadays there’s lots of what they call science fiction, but Mr. Wells probably invented time travel and space travel.”

“Did he invent it because he was unhappy where he was? Cause people laughed at him?”

“Naw,” I said, “probably just cause it was more excitin’ than what was goin’ on around there.”

“Whyn’t more people do that? Solve their problem by goin’ somewheres else?”

I laughed at that. “Good idea, Benjamin. Maybe you could give that some thought. Just look what President Kennedy just did, gettin’ us to the moon.”

I didn’t know what I’d done by sayin’ that. Benjamin stopped hangin’ out at the town square, and when I finally did see him he seemed terribly distracted.

“Can’t talk,” he said when I stopped him. “Too busy.” Then he ran off down the street.

On my route deliverin’ mail out of town a week later I happened across a great pile of stuff where the state road makes a turn by Amos Bradford’s place. There was corrugated metal sheets, two-by-fours, a whole mess of what might’ve been tractor parts. And on top of the pile was the outhouse I surmised came from Bradford’s old house.

“Hey,” I shouted, when I seen the outhouse door closing behind Benjamin. “That you, Benjamin?”

“Can’t talk now. Busy.”

“Well, you’re not goin’ to hurt yourself are you?”

“I discovered the newest form of gettin’ around. Time travel. I’m on my way, but I may come back.”

“Why would you want to leave Bellows Falls?”

“Cause everyone thinks I’m dumb as dirt! I’ll show them I ain’t!”

He absolutely shouted through the door.

I got back in my truck and thought it best to leave well enough be. But it was maybe a few days later I asked around if anyone had seen Benjamin. Nobody had.

Now, what the hell had I said to make him do some damfool thing? I guessed it was the H.G. Wells comment. A few more days passed and the sheriff got to askin’ around. Benjamin didn’t have no mother or father, and never had family so that was the end of it.

We figured he’d cut out for other parts of the world.

I guess it was long about the 1990s when I had to go to Burlington. Saw the newspaper in the hotel someone had left and there was Benjamin’s picture. He didn’t appear to be any older than when he disappeared in ’66 or ’67, but he was smilin’. There was a woman at his side and a baby in his arms. The little caption said, “Here today and gone tomorrow. Benjamin Salt visited Burlington with his family last week. He said he was planning on investing in local businesses because the area promises to have a great future.”

That Benjamin always was somethin’. I tucked the paper under my arm, intendin’ to take it back home. Then I bet the fellows in Bellows Falls will be sorry they tore his contraption apart.

# # #

Bio: Walt bounces between writing genres, from mystery to humor, spec fic to romance. His work has appeared in print and online in over a score of publication, including Short-Story.Me. Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, are available at Barnes & Noble and other online booksellers. He’s also bounced from Fortune 500 firms to university posts, and from homes in eight states and a couple of Asian countries.

 

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