Short Fiction Friday: “The Multi-Temporal Rowhome”

Posted: May 7, 2009 in Jeff Holland, Threat Quality
Tags: , ,

(This is one of the…odder…stories I’ve ever written, the result of an old memory of a house in rowhome gifsouth Philly that really just Should Not Be There, and way too much conversation about temporal anomalies. But hell, let’s see how she flies, right? -JH)

What is there to say about the multi-temporal rowhome? Is it all in the name, then? Well…what’s in a name?

It exists – as far as we know – both in 2007 and 2152. “As far as we know,” because nobody’s ever accounted for it in other dimensions or realities – and we like to cover our bases. But in our dimension, it is notable for appearing only slightly out of place in each of its homes. Its design only a smidge out of sync with its neighboring houses.

In 2007, in south Philadelphia, it is unusual to see a rowhome that is a bright fire-engine red, amidst all those browns and grays and tans. And its luscious cream balconies are smooth and round – not the design scheme of its neighbors, most of which haven’t seen renovations since the mid-70’s, at least.

Of course, by 2152, it is entirely too drab, as by then, the shifting alien mood-tones have become vogue, and fire-engine red is (was? will be?) viewed as quaint by some, tacky by others.

But people who describe things using words like “quaint” and “tacky” don’t live on this block in south Philadelphia in either time period, so don’t worry. After all, it is the least of the house’s neighbor’s concerns in quaint, tacky old 2007.

In 2007, such a neighbor is one Mr. Ambrose Leighton, a 40-year-old divorcee who lists his primary occupation on his taxes as events coordinator for a nonprofit organization. He lies on his taxes.

But it’s a rare acceptable tax lie, since what he actually considers his full-time job – “strenuously avoiding a complete nervous breakdown” – would stand out in exactly the wrong way in the eyes of the IRS.

You would think that was your job too, if you found yourself never knowing, from day to day, who your next-door neighbor would be – Mrs. Delores Kasovich, a frail old sweetheart whose daughter SPECIFICALLY asked you to check in on her from time to time, JUST IN CASE ….

Or Davros Slock, a man of indeterminate age or ethnicity who, IDEALLY, is some kind of harebrained quantum physicist who managed to accidentally unstick his own home in time, but just as likely, given his behavior (and honestly, how does one judge the behavior of a man 140-odd years outside one’s frame of cultural reference?), is some kind of futuristic meth addict.

Ambrose doesn’t know. Considering the sheer amount of stimulant crap he himself ingests on a day-to-day basis (both deliberately and through unfortunately accidental environmental means), who can say what future-folks have in their diets?

“Hell, maybe the future-president is a meth addict,” Ambrose told himself once, meaning to rationalize it. Instead, he had to fend off a crippling wave of depression – both because in 2007, the president wasn’t such hot potatoes, either, and because the president of the future is (will be?) no doubt someone of his era’s great-great (great?) grandchild, and that would only mean Ambrose’s nonprofit’s efforts to improve things for the next generation will ultimately be a dismal failure all around.

But perhaps the biggest strain on Ambrose’s mental well-being is the fact that no one else seems to notice – or at least care enough to talk to HIM about it. He’d help Mrs. Kasovich with her recycling, go to bed, and in the morning hear an odd ZZWAGM noise, and sure enough, there would be the multi-temporal rowhome again. And there would be Davros, sucking on Ambrose’s air conditioner and speaking gibberish (it’s possible “ZOMG” is some kind of future deity – or it’s possible Davros is simply off his tits on some kind of Freon high).

But does anyone knock on Ambrose’s door and say, “Hey Ambrose, have you noticed anything strange about the house next door?” Or “Hey Ambrose, Mrs. Kasovich’s building didn’t use to hum like a radioactive cricket, did it?”

Which made Ambrose feel very unpopular. Especially since it apparently HAD been pointed out to Carla Fitzgerald two doors down. He learned this when he’d finally gotten frustrated enough to drag Davros by the ear, knock on Carla’s door, and upon her answering, to ask fitfully, “Does this LOOK like Mrs. Kasovich to you?!”

“Oh, yeah, no…is that the future-guy? Yeah, someone asked me about that…I dunno, I’m sure it’ll all work itself out…”

This house had been showing up at random intervals for three months, davrosand had frustrated Ambrose to such a point, that he finally called in a favor with the physics department at the University of Pennsylvania, a school with which Ambrose’s nonprofit worked closely.

After some prodding, a sickly-looking Dr. Kenny Vance (“Dr. Kenny,” he insisted on being called) finally came by to inspect the house and its time-displaced tenant. Dr. Kenny’s informed conclusion, delivered in between allergy attacks: “Huh. Weird.”

“Yes! Yes, it is!” Ambrose wholeheartedly agreed, then asked hopefully, “So…what do I do?”

“You, uhm, call the government?” Dr. Kenny asked, wiping his grease-prone face on his lab coat. “Seems like they should know.” He then rummaged around in his pockets until he found some crumpled-up thing, presented it to a receptive Davros, and proceeded to smoke a joint with the future-man (who, it should be noted, also wore a lab coat, though by this point Ambrose was convinced it was simply a quirky fashion choice).

To the shock of no one, the government also proved less than helpful. Weeks of badgering phone calls from Ambrose and resulting missed messages finally resulted in this voicemail from an unattributable voice:

“We are aware of the problem, Mr. Leighton. It is a random, but by no means harmful, glitch in the space-time continuum, localized specifically to your city block, and possibly others throughout the timestream. We are taking steps to correct this, but in the meantime, we suggest you try not to worry about it.”

With so few options left to him, Ambrose begrudgingly took the hint. After all, it wasn’t as if Mrs. Kasovich was concerned. When she would pop back into existence, she would have no memory of things being anything other than normal. Though everyone (including – no, especially – Mrs. Kasovich) could agree that Mrs. Kasovich’s memory (and many of her senses) wasn’t what it used to be. To the extent that she could’ve spent a long weekend on a moon of Jupiter and only wonder why her grandkids hadn’t visited her there.

Ultimately, Ambrose learned a valuable lesson: paying attention to his surroundings is not all it’s cracked up to be.

But what of the denizens of the far-flung year 2152? What do they (will they?) think of the incongruous presence of some future-or-possibly-past-man popping onto their city block with no warning and temporarily dislocating, anywhere timestreamfrom hours to days at a time, the perfectly respectable-looking alien-color-shifting rowhome that had been sitting there?

(And, for that matter, how do we even know it exists in 2152? Well that, dear readers, is a tale for another time, of course.)

It is hard to say. Perhaps they have evolved to a point of remarkable unflappability. Or perhaps they are just as stoned and useless as Davros Slock. It is not for us to judge.

All we know is there’s a house in south Philadelphia that doesn’t belong there, never did, and never will. But it isn’t going out of its way to bother anyone, so (mostly) no one seems to mind.

Least of all Davros.

  1. Moff says:

    I wouldn’t mind finding out what happens next. Yeah, I could definitely read more of this.

  2. threatqualitypress says:


  3. Jeff Holland says:

    I gotta come up with more?!

    Oh brother – this is just gonna turn into “The Continuing Non-Adventures of Davros Slock, Temporal Layabout” if I’m not careful.

  4. threatqualitypress says:

    It would actually be an incredibly great premise for a long-running social satire of different locations and eras of history.

  5. Moff says:

    Yeah, it just needs to continue on into an inciting incident, and you’re gold, Jeff. You have a lovely Arthur Dent–ish protagonist in Ambrose.

    On a tangent, I was just thinking: Has anyone ever done a satire of satire? Like, a look at great works of satire throughout the history of literature and how little they changed anything?

  6. threatqualitypress says:

    I think you should send him back in time to 1776, and have him expose all of the salacious personal lives of the Founding Fathers.

    Also, Moff: I don’t know about a satire of satire. It’s an interesting idea, anyway.

  7. Moff says:

    In which we learn that Jonathan Swift actually just thought babies were, for real, totally delicious.

  8. threatqualitypress says:

    Hahah, Ambrose should go with him, too, so that he can mediate between Davros’ meth-head futurespeak and Ben Franklin’s old-timey ways.

  9. Jeff Holland says:

    Oh god, now I’m trying to imagine Davros’s speech pattterns and all I can hear is Shane McGowan from the Pogues.

    “Ishh daprolam wif yzz n’fn ctbefizzt wiffa punchinnafrote. Keeeee heheheh hack.”

  10. threatqualitypress says:

    It’s good, but add more lolspeak.

    “Zohmug! Roffle!”

  11. V.I.P. Referee says:

    You’re totally messing with my sense of Dreamtime, man. It’s a quantum-leap-for-tacky-architecture experience. Conjures up the eerie concept of something seemingly inanimate having experiences—life. I like it!

  12. […] and again, I write fiction. Sometimes I write ridiculous fiction where I don’t even know where my brain went to get the story … But damned if I can come up with the level of imagination that could cast the illusion these guys […]

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