Don't Confuse The Two (Fiction)

Adam Hrankowski

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“You’ll have to leave a small deposit,” said the shopkeeper. “For security.”

I had just scribbled my mark at the foot of a three-page document, set in 6-point Courier Bold.

I set aside the stylus and met the shopkeeper’s eye. I must have looked worried. He smiled. “A credit card imprint will be fine.”

“Oh. Yeah. Can do.”

I don’t know what I had thought he meant by “deposit.” My left pinky? Something less mundane.

“Have you operated one of these before?” he asked, writing down my MasterCard number next to my signature.

“Umm… No.” It hadn’t occurred to me. Do I need special training? A license?

The shopkeeper flipped over my card, handed it back to me and leaned forward. His eyes locked onto mine.

Gesturing with the appropriate hands, he said: “Pull left for back. Pull right for forward.” Then he straightened up. “Don’t confuse the two.”

The shopkeeper gestured toward a far corner of the store. “Take Number 2,” he said.

At first, I couldn't see what where he was pointing. The shop was lit only by three or four lamps-- Edison bulbs. The bulb on desk right in front of me overwhelmed my field of vision. I cupped my hands to my temples, like horse blinders.

I cocked my head forward, as if somehow that few inches of added proximity would aid my vision. Willing my pupils to dilate, I peered beyond the darkened bookcases, crammed with knicknacks. A child's rocking horse and a pedal sewing machine lent the place the air of a cat lady's attic.

Three lights hovered in the distance blackness. I imagined a 3-eyed dragon, waiting silently for me.

"I'll take you there," the shopkeeper laughed. He nudged my shoulder blades with his fingertips. My feet shuffled forward.

In that far corner of the shop stood three booths, all connected. They could have been change rooms. Or confessionals. Above the closed door on each was a number and a light.

  • Door #1: Green.
  • Door #2: Red.
  • Door #3: Green.

“The light is red,” I said. “What does that mean?”

The shopkeeper furrowed his brow. He studied the document I had just signed. He swung his gaze in the direction of the single red light.

“It’s still out. It was due back last night.”

“What now?”

As if in response, the red light became green.

The shopkeeper hobbled over to the row of booths and opened the middle door. He stepped inside, inhaled through his nostrils and declared, “You’re good to go.”

The interior was of the booth was layered in orange 70’s shag carpet. A small light hung from the ceiling. There was room only for a bench, apparently for the operator. In each wall on either side of the bench was a fist-sized recess and a small handle. I stepped inside and sat on the bench. “What’s supposed to go there?” I said, gesturing toward a receptacle on the inside of the door.

“Ah.” The shopkeeper disappeared and returned with a paper lunch bag. He inserted it into the receptacle.

“Some people experience a little nausea at first,” he said. “Just take it slow. You’ll be fine.”

He clicked the door shut. I was alone on a hard seat, in a locker walled with 70’s shag.

The light above flickered. Just before it went dark, I noticed the A-4 paper stapled to the inside of the door:

All time capsules must be returned 24 hours prior to rental.

The shopkeeper’s admonition echoed in my mind: “Don’t confuse the two.”

That's when I knew I wasn’t going to get my deposit back.

***

A version of this story was originally published on Medium.

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