Summary: Buster uses mysterious letters to track down the girl he thinks has a wild crush on him. What he discovers is who he expected, but the situation is not all it seems. Can also be found here on ff.net.
Buster opened his eyes and took in his surroundings. Just as he knew it would be, the room he stood in was open to the elements, a warm breeze blowing through open windows. Dust bunnies waltzed around the floor as he stepped outside into the comforting sunlight. He found her there, a paintbrush in her hand as she took in the landscape.
“How on earth did you find me here?”
“It wasn’t as hard as you swore it would be,” Buster grinned, sitting on the bench behind her and stretching out, his six-foot-five frame spreading across the deck. “You told me where you would be, but I knew you would lie to me.”
“Oh, did you now?”
“Yes, I always knew you liked to test my intellect. You had to make sure I actually earned that college degree, which I did,” Buster assured her, attempting to see what she was painting. Cleverly, she stepped into his line of sight, blocking his view of the canvas entirely. Buster nodded, “I knew when you said Paris in spring. You always hated Paris, and you only hated it in spring more.”
“And that directed you here how? Trial and error?”
“No, not exactly,” Buster swallowed. Busted. He’d tried four other place, four of her other favorite hideouts that Buster had seen her in over the years. Her parents’ attic, her favorite of her childhood homes, the location of their first date, and that park she always loved to walk through at midnight. None of them had her, so he had to check her country cottage. He knew she’d have to be there if nowhere else.
She turned to him, “So you got into a time travel trial in Brain’s program with me just so you could woo me through the centuries? Is that why we’re playing this little game of hide-and-seek.”
“You made it a game, Sue,” Buster said, watching her blush as he said her name. He smiled softly, “You’re the one who ran from me, who decided to test my love for you for whatever reason. You knew after that night in Baltimore-”
“It was snowing outside, a wicked blizzard. We had no other place to go, nothing else to do-”
“I know that, but I felt something, and I know you did too or you wouldn’t have ran from me the way you did. Sue, I love you, and you must love me. You’ve proven it to me with your letters,” Buster said, pulling a yellow envelope from his jacket pocket. He’d folded it and wrapped it tightly with a foot or more of twine to get it to fit, but it was clearly an effort to keep the letters contained and on his person.
Sue Ellen huffed as she fully turned towards him, careful to use her body to hide the canvas, “I have some awful news for you, Buster. I wasn’t the one who wrote those letters to you, not me or any other version from those…whatever Brain called them. I hid from you to make sure you wouldn’t find me, not to test our love. I don’t mind chance encounters, but after everything that happened during those trials…I knew I had to hide. I knew I had to be alone.”
“Well if you didn’t write these letters, then who did?” Buster asked, extending his hand out. Within that hand was the bundle.
Sue Ellen stared at it, wondering herself who would write him letters that would send him through time dozens of time in an attempt to win her over. She had to know. She had to take the bundle.
Buster snatched it away, shaking his head with a tense expression, “No, you have nothing for me. I’m aware time travel for you wasn’t as beneficial, but you had more to lose than I did. Once Mom passed, I had nothing to live for but myself. She was forty-six. Forty-six, but that jerk just had to have a few too many before driving himself home. I was lost, and I knew Brain’s trial could help me find myself. I didn’t go there for you. I went there for a purpose, and after Baltimore…you helped fill that void.
“I don’t mind the rejection but I won’t take your pity, and I won’t take your sick curiosity either. I’ll solve my own problems,” Buster said fiercely, putting the bundle back into his jacket pocket. He turned away from Sue Ellen without a word.
He stepped back inside to the welcome mat. That was where a power strip would help him get to wherever he wanted in time. Brain had figured it all out in his laboratory, and once he figured it out, he accepted a trial of twenty people to test out his principles. He used animals first, rats and then dogs, but people were the next big thing. Buster and Sue Ellen were chosen from one final field of ten. They joined the class, learned the ways of time travel…and learned the consequences of such power. Sue Ellen was able to watch her parents die in a fire caused by one of the earliest versions of the devices. It started in her attic hideout and tore through the house faster than anyone could survive. Her parents were almost burnt beyond recognition.
Buster knew she liked to go there from time to time, but her parents weren’t there. The house was empty in the past, a fluke that even Brain didn’t comprehend. The house should be as it was during that year, whatever year she chose, but if she picked one during the fifteen years her parents lived there, it was empty, devoid of all life. She was able to fill the attic with her own objects and make it her own, but she could never go back.
He knew her pain. Losing his mother in college to a drunk driver was more than Buster could take. He hurled himself into his degree, which would help lead him to Brain’s program. He hoped that going back to that day would change things, but when he rushed back to the condo that day to keep his mother from leaving, he found the same cruel anomaly. The house was exactly how it was—nothing was missing like in Sue Ellen’s empty abode—but Bitzi was only a flitting memory.
It was sickening what they’d gone through, but his romance through time kept him active. He thought it was Sue Ellen for multiple reasons, but now that he’d found her again after five years of searching, mere days in the grand scheme of things, he’d learned the truth: Whoever wrote those letters wasn’t Sue Ellen, and he knew it never would be.
Once back at his apartment, Buster pulled out the letters and looked them over. He studied the way the writer made their i’s, so familiar yet now so strange. He thought he remembered Sue Ellen doing her i’s that way in high school, a fad of sorts that kids did to make themselves different. Now that he was looking over the handwriting with more scrutiny, or rather with more people in mind, he knew the writing was too fancy. Sue Ellen wanted to share her words, not her artistic abilities. She saved that for her canvas. No, her handwriting was for perfection, and she wrote exactly how she did all the way back in elementary school.
But Buster knew that writing, and because the writer was a time traveler who often “just missed” him, he knew it was one of the originals who learned directly from Brain. Only they spent time with him long enough to know where he would go and how to get there safely. That was the problem with his discovery so far. The anomalies angered people—they wanted to know why the past wasn’t really the past as they knew it—but the injuries killed people, too frequently for the government to ignore. Anyone traveling now other than the original twenty were doing so illegally. The writer of these letters wasn’t breaking the law.
Buster flipped through the letters again before putting them away again, tucking them into their tight bundle and into his jacket pocket. He looked around his apartment and finally noticed the next one, tucked between the container labeled SUGAR and another labeled FLOUR. They were empty aside from some expired coupons and recipe cards Buster stole from his mother but never used, but they had some use now. The letter in a baby blue envelope poked out in the drab space. Buster snatched it up and sniffed the paper. Yes, this was from her. It was the same perfume.
I missed you again, dear. We’ll meet up in some time or another3
This was the shortest note he’d ever gotten. Buster sighed, wondering what it all meant. Now that he knew it wasn’t Sue Ellen, his pandering for her seemed pointless. He’d wasted so much time trying to track her down, and now that the search had yielded such strange results, he felt as if he didn’t want to continue. The notes were pointless now. He didn’t care if he got anymore or not. He was ready to be through with them.
The sky was pitch black when Buster opened his eyes. He checked his regular watch, then the watch he used for time travel. He’d gone back to a summer from his childhood, a place he knew well. It was a farm he and his father spent time in, a barn transformed into a bed and breakfast by a lovely couple.
Buster never stayed with them however. This was where he went to stargaze and remember those childhood dreams of aliens and other worlds. Now he had one of the most coveted abilities in all of science fiction, Time Travel, but he felt it was only a burden. It pulled him away from a job he could’ve gotten straight out of college, a lucrative job with a high salary and a potential for growth. The trials paid him to participate, tons of money for a guy like him. His simple ways made it easy to save the cash, and he knew he probably had most of it left.
It took him to interesting places too. This bed and breakfast was one of his favorites, and he dreamed of coming back and watching his father take him out to the ranch to ride ponies before heading back to the airport. He wanted to think of those times, to relive those times. That would be amazing to him, but that wasn’t the reason why he came here.
No, he came here to clear his head, but instead he found himself looking up at a blackened sky.
Suddenly a flash of lightning ripped across the sky. Buster countered to ten before the thunder rolled over him. This wasn’t a good night for a time trip. He had to find shelter, and fast, and he’d have to stay the duration. Traveling during storms was never a good idea for many reasons, but all of it had to do with electricity. If the power went out while you were traveling, it was game over and you’d be lost forever. If the power surged, you’d be taken off course, sometimes only by a few minutes, but others found themselves centuries away with no way to get back. Other travelers could come across your tales, but otherwise the world was oblivious. You were just gone, and it had happened to many.
So Buster tucked himself into a horse stall, narrowly missing a downpour as he rushed into his shelter. He noticed a hole in the wall near him, a hole that allowed him to watch the storm barrage the property. He realized he didn’t remember it ever storming while he was there, but then he smiled and remembered his parents jokingly referring to him as Rip Van Winkle for his ability to sleep for long periods of time without a care. Now he could travel through time without a care, but it wasn’t the same, especially without his mom around to make it worth his while.
As Buster studied his life, he knew his pining for women in general was often fruitless and unrewarding. His adventures were great in the moment, but they always ended up being his biggest regrets later. Now, for example, he regretted ever pursuing Sue Ellen. She probably thought terrible things about him for constantly dropping in unannounced, or trying to. Her games were a survival tool, and he just had to take things too far.
While he did want to know the true writer of the letters, part of Buster knew he needed to move on to other things. He’d always had other plans, and one of them involved using his time travel abilities to see where things ended up. He’d find himself in those answers, he decided, so he yearned to do that. Now that he was done going after a woman who obviously really didn’t want to be with him, he could go on that journey, once this storm passed of course.
Buster yawned suddenly. He peeked out and saw the storm was settling in. The thunder wasn’t as frequent but the rain still fell by the bucket full. It would likely last all night.
With a sigh, Buster prepared his bed. He took off his jacket and covered himself with it, careful to keep his arms under the jacket entirely to keep any loose drops away.
As he closed his eyes, Buster decided he wasn’t comfortable just yet. He shifted before pulling the heavy, thick bundle out of the jacket. He noticed a feeding bucket nearby and tossed the bundle inside. The twine broke, rupturing the bundle and filling the bucket and surrounding area with paper and perfume. Buster inhaled it one last time before settling in for the night. No, this journey was over. It was time for another one to begin.
A/N: Am I leaving you all hanging here? Yes. I don’t care what Buster finds in the future or if he finds out the writer of the mysterious letters. I mean, I do care, but not enough to come up with the details myself. I’m currently working on a goal to do 100 one-shots this summer, and since I have other big projects to work with, I don’t plan on starting another by adding more to this.
BUT, and this is a big but, I’d love it if anyone wanted to add the next chapter themselves. If you want to write it, go for it, and you can continue it all you want. Just give me credit and start posting your own piece. Let me know when it’s up so I can feature it on my WordPress and other mediums.
Also if you want to do a summer challenge, join me on my journey to write as much as possible between now and August. You don’t have to do 100 one-shots, but you should pick a plausible goal you’re willing to work towards for several months. And again, let me know if you’re participating so I can encourage you and feature your work. We Arthur writers should stick together:)
[Written May 4th]