Backwards SCAT: Can You Do That?
One of the challenges I set for myself when writing Ebenezer’s Locker was to come up with an original approach to time travel. It took some serious thought, since the topic seems to be covered from every angle in fiction.
Of course, you’ve got your standard walk-in box that takes you forward or backward in time, as in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, or the TARDIS in Doctor Who. There the external device that pulls you through time when you’re near it, like the gadget in Joe Haldeman’s The Accidental Time Machine or the antique radio in Edward Bloor’s London Calling. And there’s space travel that unintentionally turns into time travel (thanks, Einstein), which is the premise of Planet of the Apes. There are even time travel spells in some fantasy literature.
The key for completing my task was to find the essence of my story, and convert that somehow into a time travel technique. Ebenezer’s Locker is about psychical phenomena, or the existence of spirits separate from the body. That was my answer.
And so I invented SCAT, Semi-Centennial Astral Transport. Well, I had one of the characters invent it. The idea is that, by using a spell, a psychic can order his spirit to jump forward in time, letting it visit the future after his death. But the time travel must be by chunks of fifty years (hence the “Semi-Centennial”).
That was half the challenge taken care of. But I needed living characters to be able to use this technique, and I needed them to go into the past. Although I won’t give details here about how it works, I’ll just say that this is how “backwards SCAT” was born.
Unfortunately for Rhonda Zymler, the main character in Ebenezer’s Locker, backwards SCAT is kind of a stressful experience.
About Ebenezer's Locker
A hundred years ago, Corbin Elementary School's building housed Dr. Ebenezer Corbin's School for Psychical Research. It seems that a couple of old spirits are still wandering the halls. It's up to Rhonda Zymler to find out what they want.Ebenezer's Locker follows the adventures of Rhonda, a sassy sixth-grader who's having trouble finding her place and identity. Getting to know these spirits becomes Rhonda's quest. The more she digs, the more perilous her task becomes, and to complete it she must take two trips back in time. This story blends the realities of an economically-challenged modern American town with supernatural elements. What Rhonda finds not only gives her life a sense of purpose, but changes the fortunes of her entire town.
One last thought passed through my mind before I was SCAT-ted a hundred years into the past. I tried to say, “Do we know how I’m going to get back?” But I couldn’t force my mouth to move.
The world went fuzzy. My heart crashed and banged like a rocker’s drum kit. I felt lifted and pressed down at the same time. There were colors, every possible color, swirling everywhere, and then forming sharp-edged shapes, and then sprayed like fireworks. I heard sirens, screaming, a thousand ambulances, and a million dog whistles.
Then silence. What I noticed first were the smells. Men’s cologne. Old wood. Mothballs. Then the sounds. Creaks and scrapes and breathing and talking and wind and plumbing and birds and footsteps and someone slurping a soda. I had superhero hearing.
At last my vision started to clear, but nothing looked right. I saw the little room through a giant magnifying glass. There was too much detail. I could count the stitches on the blanket over the cot and see three layers of varnish painted on the desk. Yet, in the mirror opposite me, I couldn’t see myself. Looking down at where my hand should be, I saw only the floor. I tried to pinch my cheek. I couldn’t feel anything.
Footsteps and floor creaks grew louder, and I heard a deafening CLACK as the lock turned. The door opened inward.
As you can see, SCAT is not an ideal method, but time travel never is. Even Doctor Who often has trouble controlling his TARDIS.
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