Monday, December 12, 2016

Harold's Holidays (Part 3): Why Does This Always Happen?

Greetings and happy holidays, WYMOP readers!

Harold is back, with part three of his holiday misadventures!

You don’t know what I’m talking about? Hmm. You might want to go back to the beginning by clicking HERE—part three of a four-part series is kind of a strange place to leap into a story. Not to worry, part three will be right here when you get back.

On with the tale!

~ ~ * * ~ ~
Why Does This Always Happen?
(Harold’s Holidays—Part 3)

“Why does this always happen when I try to look out for myself?” said Younger Harold.
“I don’t know.” Older Harold shook his head. “But I’d better start learning from my mistakes.”
“I mean, this was supposed to be so easy,” Younger Harold complained. “All I wanted was to get a little recognition. A little thanks. Poppa was fine with that, although I think he was a little miffed that I brought it up at Thanksgiving dinner.”
Older Harold tapped him on the arm with a warm, calloused finger. “I know. I was there, remember?”
“I got myself moved off the workroom floor and onto the Big Run, right? But it was a tough month, all that training with the sleigh and the reindeer. And then I almost got in a fight with the original Saint Nick. How was I to know he had a grudge against Poppa?”
“Look,” said Older Harold. “All that has nothing to do with our current predicament.”
“Fine,” said Younger Harold. “Just explain what I’m doing wrong now, so I can explain it later, when I’m you, all right?”
“That shouldn’t be a problem,” said Older Harold. “But you do need to listen to me now, and listen close. Rupert tried to explain all this to you before you left, but you weren’t paying attention.”
“But that means neither were you!” sputtered Younger Harold.
“Yes,” admitted Older Harold. “But when I figured out what trouble I was in, I called Rupert.”
“You called Rupert?” wailed Younger Harold. “I’m never going to hear the end of it.”
“Yes, I called Rupert. And he explained it to me again. In detail. And very colorful language. So you pay attention now,” he pointed to Younger Harold, “so you’ll remember it now.” He pointed at himself.
“All right.” Older Harold paused to organize his thoughts. “Right. So, you know the reindeer are magical creatures, and can fly.”
Older Harold ignored him. “Well, the sleigh itself is a magical construction. As I understand it, it’s a simple spell that affects the quantum existence of the sleigh.”
Younger Harold squinted at Older Harold. “Unless I get a lot smarter in the next ninety minutes, you don’t even understand the meaning of the word quantum.”
“Okay, fine,” said Older Harold. “Forget why the sleigh works. We’ll concentrate on how it works.”
“Fine.” Younger Harold folded his arms across his chest. “You may continue.”
“Thank you. Look, all you have to know is the spell affects the way the sleigh moves. It’s sort of been split in two, in what Rupert referred to as a ‘quantum fashion,’ and then put back together with the two parts facing in the opposite directions. Because of this, when the sleigh moves forward in space it moves backward in time. So all you have to do is match travel time with delivery time. Got it?”
“Clear as mud,” announced Younger Harold.
“Okay, look,” said Older Harold. “When the sleigh is flying through the air, it’s going backward in time. How the blazes do you think Poppa gets to every house in just one night?”
“Okay . . . wait, I think I get that. Sort of.”
“Okay. So, while the sleigh is flying, it’s going backward in time. But while it’s parked on the roof and Poppa’s in there dropping off toys or eating cookies, time is rolling forward as usual. Because the sleigh isn’t moving. Okay?”
“Following you so far.”
“Good. Now, all you have to do, as the driver, is keep track of how long Poppa spends in each house, and make the travel time to the next house in line take about that long.”
“Look, if you land on a roof at, oh, let’s say midnight, and Poppa takes five minutes to deliver the presents and ten minutes to belt down some milk and cookies, then you’re leaving the house at about 12:15, right?”
“Right. Does he ever share those cookies?”
“Now,” Older Harold went on, doggedly. “If it takes him fifteen minutes per house, he’ll never finish. Ever. Right?”
“But, if you take fifteen minutes to drive the sleigh to the next house, then you’ve gone backwards in time for fifteen minutes, and you get to the next house at midnight again.”
“But that means we’re stopping at every house in the world at the same time?”
Younger Harold’s mind was boggling.
“You could,” said Older Harold, “but then you’d be seeing yourself arriving and leaving all the houses around you, and things would get confusing. And according to Rupert that would stress local space-time too much. It can handle being bent, for the small stuff like this”—he indicated the two of them again—“but too much bending and it’ll break. Rupert’s got a route worked out so that some deliveries are close together, some farther apart, and the whole thing takes all night long. He’s even worked time zones into the equation, but don’t ask me how!”
“Well, then how did I wind up falling behind? And how did this happen?” Younger Harold said, pointing at himself and Older Harold.
“You’re driving too fast between deliveries. You’re taking too straight a line, and the delivery times are taking longer than the travel times.” He reached behind himself, pulled out a fairly large book, and began leafing through its pages. “You are, you said, on delivery number 4,917,830, right? The Johnson home at 173 Mulroony Street, Rome, New York?”
“Right,” said Younger Harold.
“Well, according to the schedule”—Older Harold held up the book—“you’re supposed to be here at about 12:03 am local time, give or take five minutes, but you got here at 12:15. I realized I was running about a half hour late somewhere around delivery 5,000,000 and started to hurry, trying to make up time, but that only made things worse. I’m on delivery 6,334,219, and I’m supposed to be at 1:17 am local time, but I didn’t get there until 3:25. I opened a calculator we were delivering—thank God for nerds—and did some math. At the rate we’re going we’ll be done at 4:15 pm December 26. Of next year.”
“But . . . but we have Poppa with us! Didn’t he notice how far behind we were?”
Older Harold made a face. “Sometimes they leave him hard cider rather than milk, and after a few hundred thousand deliveries he gets a little . . . uh . . . lax about the schedule. That’s why he has a driver in the first place.”
“Oh, I see! No wonder he doesn’t share the snacks, the old so-and-so!”
“Exactly. Now, do you think you have a handle on all this?” said Older Harold.
“I think so. But Rupert is never going to let me live this down.”
Older Harold leaned in with a sly expression. “If you start fixing the problem now, at 12:15, then you’ll never get as far behind as I was for 1:17. Then I’ll never have called Rupert in the first place.”
Younger Harold brightened. “Will that work? Will I even remember this if you never had to come back?”
Older Harold shrugged. “How should I know? Do I look like Rupert? All we can do is collect our respective Poppas and give it a try. According to the schedule, we’re supposed to be back in this area at 12:37 am, plus or minus five minutes. I don’t want to take a chance on bumping into myself again and messing this up any further.”
“I’ll be along in a minute,” said Younger Harold. “I just want to have a quick peek in the fridge. He is really bad about sharing the snacks, and I’m getting hungry.”
Older Harold walked out of the kitchen, and Younger Harold opened the refrigerator door, poking about and coming up with a cold chicken leg and a couple of pickles. As he closed the fridge door, he heard a familiar voice behind him.
“Oh, good, I caught you.”
He turned to see another Harold, but it didn’t look like Older Harold. This Harold was bleary-eyed, and seemed to be weaving while standing still, which is a neat trick unless you’re drunk. Then it just comes naturally.
“Are you the 12:37 me?” said Younger Harold.
“No, no, no,” slurred the other Harold, finishing with a slight hiccup. “I’m the, uh, wha’ time izit? Uh, wait, I know this. 3:45. Yeah, thazzit. I’m the 3:45 Harold, and I’m glad I found you.”
Younger Harold looked at himself in horror. “Holy Christmas, what happened to you?”
“Put that snack away.” 3:35 Harold waved a hand. “Put it away. Poppa started sharin’ the snacks at about 1:45. Ish. 1:45-ish. Especially the cider. Good cider. I had to catch you to tell you. What was I gonna tell you? Wait—Oh! I got it! Start working on him way back at 12:15. Ish. Maybe we can get him sooning sharer. Sharing sooner. Whatever. That is all.”
3:45 Harold spun on one wobbly heel and strode from the room. It only took him three tries to get through the open door.
Younger Harold stared after him, groping for just the curse word to sum up his feelings, then put a hand to his brow, where he felt a headache forming.
“Oh, quantum.”
~ ~ * * ~ ~
Harold seems to be having a bad time of it. And a good time of it. He’s having lots of times of it. I just hope he makes it through the big night intact.
Stop by next week and find out!

Happy holidays! Talk to you later.

Back to Part 2

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