Last week, Girl Meets Monster had a visit from Lana Ayers who talked to us about her debut novel, Time Flash: Another Me and this week K.W. Taylor is here to share a fragment about a time-traveling elevator.
K.W. Taylor’s first science fiction novel, The Curiosity Killers, came out in the spring of 2016 from Dog Star Books. Her debut novel, The Red Eye, combines urban fantasy and horror (Alliteration Ink, 2014). Her work has been published in numerous periodicals. Anthology appearances include Ink Stains (Dark Alley, 2017), A Terrible Thing (555/Carrion, 2016), Life after Ashes (Alliteration Ink 2015), The Grotesquerie (Mocha Memoirs Press, 2014), 100 Worlds (Dreamscape Press, 2013), Sidekicks! (Alliteration Ink, 2013), Once Bitten, Never Die (Wicked East Press, 2011), and 555 Vol. 3: Questions and Cancers (Carrion Blue, 2018). Taylor holds an M.F.A. in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, an M.A. in literature, and teaches college in Ohio, where she’s working on her Ph.D. She blogs at kwtaylorwriter.com.
Girl Meets Monster: What was your inspiration for this fragment, and why did you abandon it?
KWT: I started and abandoned this fragment in 2014, with the working title “Elevator Out of Time.” When I began it, I was noodling around with my thesis novel’s mechanics of time traveling, and I wrote this as a possible spin-off story that could explain how time travel worked. Ultimately, I didn’t like the mechanics, and I realized later that the setting was a little too on-the-nose for someone working in higher education (you’ll see what I mean).
Girl Meets Monster: Time travel is obviously a very popular trope in genre fiction, what was the first time travel story that caught your attention, and why?
KWT: Some of my first exposure to time travel was via the first Back to the Future film, which came out at a formative time in my life. BttF is a much more historic/nostalgic view of time travel, however, and the physics elements of it as well as the connection with space travel is much more apparent in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels, which I read as a kid. Perhaps because of these two early influences, I tend to blend that sense of mystery and nostalgia with the element of physics and space travel, and my own time travel work is a bit more hybrid as a result.
Girl Meets Monster: In your opinion, what are some of the worst examples of how time travel has been used in fiction? Some of the best?
KWT: Some of the best examples of time travel fiction other than the above include Quantum Leap, which hits that history/nostalgia element really hard, and Stephen King’s 11/22/63, which does the same but goes much, much darker. In the latter, I especially love the added fate and horror elements that imply that while you may be able to travel in time, changing history is going to get you in some serious hot water and may indeed kill you. Conversely, some of the worst examples of time travel in fiction are those that are poorly researched. If you’re going to dive into the past, you need to recognize that you’re writing not just science fiction but historical fiction, too, and that even the recent past is much different culturally than the present. There were some dodgy examples of this in the recent hulu series Future Man and in the Hot Tub Time Machine films, for example, but comedic takes on time travel can overcome a lot of problems if the comedy is solid. Literature-wise, I have to admit to not being a huge fan of H.G. Well’s The Time Machine, mostly because I think future time travel can come off heavy handed, as that book reads today.
Elevator Out of Time, by K.W. Taylor
Cheryl nodded to the other passenger in the elevator, a tall man with dark skin wearing what she thought of as the quintessential college professor attire—white shirt, corduroy suit jacket, and jeans. Cute. Awfully tall, and cute, she thought. She turned around to face the doors as they slid shut.
The elevator crept along and stopped at the second floor, where two students got on. “Oh, hey, Mrs. Tucker!” one chirped at her.
Cheryl cringed at the “Mrs.” but didn’t correct her.
“Hi,” she said. “How’s your semester going?” She avoided using the girl’s name, which escaped her, but she recognized her from a seminar the previous year. Kayley? Kelly? Something…
“Not bad,” the girl replied. She gestured to the boy beside her. “He’s graduating this term, though. Can you believe it?”
The boy gave Cheryl a wan smile. Cheryl knew him, too, from a different class. “Whoa, I just had you in 101!” she said. “Can that really be four years ago?”
“Yup,” the boy confirmed. He turned to the girl. “Kayla, text me when you get home,” he said.
Kayla, that’s it.
The doors opened on the third floor. “See ya, Mrs. Tucker!” The boy exited the elevator, and another girl got on, occupying the space he left. She hit the button for the fourth floor.
“You going to the quiz bowl meeting?” Kayla asked.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” Cheryl answered. She realized a deeper voice had joined her own, and looked up at the man beside her. “Oh, gosh, are you Dr. Middleton?” she asked. She held out her hand. “I knew the new history department member was co-chairing this time, but I don’t think we’ve met yet.”
The man smiled and shook her hand. “Yeah, Jeff Middleton. Dr. Tucker, is it?”
“Ms.,” she corrected. “Still working on the ‘doctor’ part.” She willed herself to ignore the pang tugging at her with that admission and instead turned back to Kayla. “What’s your subject area going to be?” she asked.
“Mm, I’m thinking the world wars,” Kayla replied.
The elevator lurched and came to a stop, but the doors remained closed. An alarm sounded.
“Ah, crap.” The girl from the third floor leaned in front of Jeff and punched the “door open” button. “I got a class in ten minutes.” She started rummaging in her purse before pulling out a cell phone. “My battery’s dead. Anybody got a phone?”
“There’s an emergency panel,” Cheryl said, pointing at the rectangle beneath the buttons. “Here.” She scooted next to the girl and opened the panel. Instead of a phone there was an intercom speaker and a button. Cheryl knelt and pressed the button. “Hello? Hello? I think we’re stuck. We’re in the Roberts Hall elevator.”
“My battery should be good,” Kayla said. She pulled out her own phone and started touching the screen.
“Call campus security,” Cheryl said, standing back up. She rattled off the number.
“How do you have that memorized?” Jeff asked.
Cheryl shrugged. “I’m probably not the only woman on campus who does,” she replied. “Unfortunately.”
“Oh, dear.” Jeff furrowed his brow. “I thought crime wasn’t a problem here. When I interviewed—”
“It’s not, not really,” Cheryl interjected. “I just work a lot of late nights and stuff. Can’t be too careful.”
Kayla frowned and pulled her phone from her ear. “I don’t think I have any bars,” she said.
“Not surprised,” the other girl said. “Probably not awesome reception in here, thick walls and all this metal. Crap, we have a quiz today!”
“It’s okay,” Cheryl said. “What was your name?”
The girl opened her eyes wide. “Simone. Don’t you remember me? I was in your class like last semester.” She held out her palm and pointed to a spot in the middle of it. “I sat right next to that guy who never shut up, the older dude.”
Cheryl laughed. “Yes, right, sorry sorry.” She shook her head. “I get pretty busy and sometimes names escape me.”
Except I’ve had trouble remembering a lot of things, Cheryl mused. Sure, I have a lot of students, but still . . . She thought back to a day the previous week when she’d driven herself home from work, only to realize she was at an apartment complex she hadn’t lived in for eight years.
“I have a mobile,” Jeff said.
Cheryl noticed for the first time that he had a slight lilt to his voice, not a thick accent but a hint of one. She imagined time spent abroad, studying and traveling. Interesting. And who calls it a mobile?
Jeff’s phone was an ancient device with a flip up panel. He opened it and started pressing buttons. “Wait, here we go, I think it’s ringing.” He held it up to his ear. “Hello! Yes, yes, we’re stuck in a lift in Roberts Hall. Four of us, two students, one staff, one faculty.”
Cheryl’s jaw clenched.
“Right, so d’you think you’d be able to send . . . Mm hm. No, Roberts Hall. What?” He pulled the phone from his ear and frowned at it. “This is campus security, yeah? Alpha College? Well, then, I don’t know what sort of . . . Blast!” He shut the phone. “They hung up on me.”
Cheryl looked up at him. “What? Why?”
“You’ll love this. They said there’s no such building as Roberts Hall and I should stop making prank calls.” He shook his head. “What sort of school have I signed on to here?”
The alarm ceased, and the elevator car began moving again, only this time it appeared to be going down instead of up. “My quiz!” Simone shrieked. She reached out to push the fourth floor button again, but Kayla put a hand on her shoulder.
“No, don’t mess with it! At least it’s moving now. You can run up the stairs,” she told Simone. “I’m sure your prof will understand.”
“Four flights? Ugh,” Simone muttered.
“Why would campus security say stuff like that?” Cheryl asked.
“Beats me,” Jeff said. He tucked his phone inside his jacket. “Perhaps they’ve got a new employee or some such.”
The elevator came to a stop, and the doors opened. Blazing sunshine greeted the four of them. Cheryl shielded her eyes.
Kayla leaned forward and peered through the doors. “What the hell?”
Cheryl blinked and looked outside.
Field. Everywhere, as far as the eye could see. Unblemished, mostly, save a few patches of earth that looked to be in the middle of being ploughed for crops. Cheryl recognized the highway, but the dozens of fast food restaurants occupying the east side were gone. The only familiar sight was a greasy spoon called Smithee’s, a run-down spot where one was prone to contract foodborne illness. But right now it didn’t look run-down, it looked pristine, a “GRAND OPENING” banner fluttering from its front awning.
Next week, Stephanie M. Wytovich will drop by to talk about vampires, which you know, is one of my favorite subjects. Do you have a fragment you’re dying to share? Open a vein and drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you next week!