Bumbles in Time #4: The Quebec Catastrophe

Previous Story Synopsis: Felix is on a time-traveling field trip in ancient Guatemala when he meets a Mayan girl named Ixchel. Ixchel accidentally pushes Felix’s Emergency Evacuation button, but instead of going back to Felix’s school, they find themselves in Morocco in 1911. They escape from Berber warriors and push the Emergency Evacuation button again to get away, ending up on an island in 15th century Indonesia. They get ride with a family of nomadic sea people to the city of Malacca to meet a field trip that will be there. However, they miss it by minutes. With no other, choice, they push the Emergency Evacuation button again, still trying to get home.

Read the full chapters here:

  1. Bumbles in Time #1: The Mayan Girl
  2. Bumbles in Time #2: The Berber Danger
  3. Bumbles in Time #3: The Malacca Meander

Bumbles in Time: The Quebec Catastrophe

Felix felt the uncomfortable sizzle in his stomach as the forest near Malacca faded from view. The next moment, he was gripped by the worst cold he had every felt. It attacked every part of his body. Everything was black. He would have thought they had come out in outer space except that he could hear Ixchel screaming next to him and there was no sound in space.

He was already shaking so hard it was difficult to even use the armband. He pulled up the location: Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica, 320 AD. A warning was flashing in the corner: Temperature Warning: -41 degrees Celsius.

“Go!” Ixchel screamed. “Just go!”

She was right. There was no way to even debate this. Both of them were dressed for tropical climates and Ixchel did not even have shoes. They would die in less than 10 minutes here.

Felix scrolled down with shaking fingers until he got to the Emergency Evacuation button. Just as he pushed it, he looked up to see a sky filled with a million stars and across the center, a shifting curtain of red and green. He managed to take a video note just as they faded away.

They faded into a dim forest. It was gloomy but compared to Antarctica, it seemed bright. They were surrounded again by blessed warmth.

Ixchel felt to the ground, crying. Felix collapsed next to her and they hugged for warmth. It took ten minutes before they had recovered enough to sit up and wonder where they were.

“Where was that?” Ixchel asked. “I thought we must have gone to Xibalba. No place on earth could be that cold.”

“That was Antarctica,” Felix said. “It’s always that cold.” He was more interested in where they were at the moment. He looked at the armband but noticed that the status light had turned yellow. That meant that they were in slight danger of changing the future in a serious way. But how was that possible when they were alone in the forest? He looked at the location. “Oh no,” he said.

“What?”

“We’re in 1998,” Felix said. Ixchel’s face showed confusion. “Anytime after 1950 is called the Red Zone. You need special permission to go there. That’s because people during that time are very aware of time travel, even if they don’t think it’s possible. They also have very good communication systems. Anyone we meet might guess we’re time travelers and tell the whole world. We could totally change history just by being here.”

“Should we just go again?” Ixchel asked.

Felix looked at the battery. It was at 30%. “No, we only have the chance to jump once more. If we go somewhere with no field trips or somewhere like Antarctica again, we’re dead.”

The temperature was 12 degrees Celsius, cold by Felix’s standards but 53 degrees better than Antarctica. They huddled together and looked at their situation.

They were in Quebec, Canada, not far from the town of St-Raymond. There were no field trips anywhere nearby for the next year. Felix kept expanding in time and location.

“There,” he said at last. “There is a field trip right now in Toronto. That is . . . 700 kilometers away.”

“700 kilometers!” Ixchel cried. “How are we supposed to walk that far? I’ve never heard of anything that far away before.”

“It’s okay,” Felix said. “They have ways of moving very quickly in this time. We can take a car or a train or a helicopter and get there in less than a day.” They just needed not to be seen or at least noticed. Felix looked at the two of them with a sinking feeling. He was wearing a Rina Patel Elementary School shirt and the turban that the Orang Laut had given him. Ixchel was still wearing her Mayan clothes and the conical hat she had gotten. They would stand out anywhere.

But there was nothing they could but start walking. It was late afternoon and cloudy. They started walking, following the map in the armband. They were close to Quebec City, so if they could get there and if they could get on a train, they could get to Toronto pretty quickly.

They reached a dirt road and turned south when there was a rumbling sound behind them. Felix turned to see a truck coming down the road towards them.

“What is that?” Ixchel cried.

Felix was about to say it was like a wagon, but then he remembered from their history class that the Mayans did not have the wheel. He was about to say it was like a metal animal, but he remembered they did not use metal either. “It’s a truck,” he said. “It’s fine.”

The truck slowed next to them and the driver, a man with a black beard, rolled down his window. “What are you doing out here?” he called.

Felix recognized that he was speaking French, but Felix did not dare use the armband as a translator here. He knew that they spoke English in Canada and he knew English pretty well from reading books and watching old movies, so he decided to just try that.

“We are going to Quebec City,” he said, keeping the armband pressed behind his back. “Can we drive your truck?”

The man laughed. “Where did you come from?” he asked in English. “You sure you’re not forest fairies, showing up looking like that?”

“What’s he saying?” Ixchel asked. Without the armband, she could not understand any of it. “I’ll tell you later,” Felix said, then to the man: “No, we are dressed in costumes from a book we read.”

The man looked skeptical, but cocked his head. “Hop in then.”

Felix was surprised when the door did not open for him automatically, but he figured out the handle and they climbed into the driver’s side. He showed Ixchel how to shut the door, very aware that the man was watching them. Then they were bumping along the road.

“What’s your name?” the man said over the noise of the truck. Felix told him, sure there was no harm in that. He peeked at his armband. The light was now orange. This was getting worse and worse.

“Ichelle?” the man said. He looked at Ixchel. “You First Nations?” Ixchel was looking around with a mixture of wonder and terror and gripping Felix’s hand tightly.

“She speaks no English,” Felix said. “Or French.” He pressed a hand over the armband as it translated what he said into Mayan but it was too late to hide it.

“Woah!” the man said. “What do you have there?” He was trying to drive and look over at the armband at the same time.

“It is a . . . an automatic repeater,” Felix said. That didn’t sound right.

“And you found that out here in the woods, I suppose,” the man said. Felix had no idea what to say.

“Can we trust this man?” Ixchel whispered. She was speaking Mayan and Felix heard the translation in his ear, but she whispered anyway. “There is something about him I don’t like.”

“I don’t know,” Felix said. “If he can get us to the city, it will be okay.”

They reached a bigger road and the bumping stopped. Other cars came towards them and passed. Every time one came towards them, Ixchel flinched and gave a little worried sound.

“She’s never been in a car before, eh?” the man asked. Felix didn’t answer.

Felix did not dare look at his armband but he tried to remember what he had read before. The “field trip” in Toronto was actually just one guy, a researcher from Japan who was studying radio broadcasts. He was staying in one apartment for a month, according to the registry, and he would be there for another three weeks. They had plenty of time to get to him if they could find a way.

“We want to go to the train station,” Felix said. “There is a train station in Quebec City, yes?”

“How old are you?” the man asked.

“She is eighteen,” Felix said.

“I’m fifteen,” Ixchel whispered.

“You have to be eighteen or they might not let us on the train by ourselves,” Felix said.

“What’s a train?”

“It’s a very long truck,” Felix replied. “Like a snake.”

They drove for another twenty minutes. The cars became more numerous, but Ixchel stopped flinching as they passed. Then the land flattened out and Felix saw an airport off to their right. As they were passing, a large passenger airplane took.

Ixchel shouted and pointed. “What is that? That can’t be a bird, can it?”

“That’s a truck that flies in the air,” Felix said. This world was getting complicated to explain.

Ixchel shook her head. “So many kinds of trucks. Snake trucks and bird trucks. There aren’t monkey trucks or crocodile trucks, are there?”

“Maybe?” Felix said.

Five minutes later, they pulled into a large building with a red and white Canadian flag flying outside.

“Is this the train station?” Felix asked. He did not see any trains, but maybe they were underground. It was near the airport, which made sense.

“Uh, yeah,” the man said. “Come on.” He got out of the truck.

“Where are we?” Ixchel asked.

“I don’t know, but I don’t think it’s the train station,” Felix said. The man was coming around to their side. Felix thought about stealing the truck, but he did not know how to drive even in his own time, let alone a truck from 1998. The status light on the armband was still orange. At least it wasn’t red yet.

The man opened the truck door on their side and helped them out. He led the way towards the building. Felix caught sight of the sign as they went in. Royal Canadian Mounted Police. No! The man had brought them to a police station. Felix tried to turn around but the man was behind them now, ushering them in.

“Just sit down for the moment,” the man said. He went up to the desk to talk to the person on duty. He switched to French and spoke quieter but the armband could still pick up his words.

“Hi,” the man said to the desk clerk. “I was driving home up near Lac St-Joseph when I saw these kids by the side of the road. She looks like First Nations and I don’t know about the boy, but I think they’re running away.”

The woman at the desk looked past the man to Felix and Ixchel. Felix felt a rising panic.

“We need to get out of here,” he said. “These people are like guards. They’re going to keep us here.” He could imagine what would happen. They would ask where they lived, who their parents were and they would take away his armband. Then they would find out everything and everyone would know. He would totally change history. It could ruin his life, literally. Also, then Ixchel could never go home.

The armband did not have maps of individual buildings, but Felix could see a sign for the bathrooms just down the hall. He took Ixchel’s hand and stood up. Then, in English he said, “We are going to the toilet.” The desk clerk pointed down the hall.

They walked down the hall, looking for an emergency exit. Felix looked back. Both the truck driver and the desk clerk were watching them. They reached the doors of the bathrooms.

“We need to get away from here,” Felix whispered. “But they’re watching us right now. In this time, people had communal bathrooms divided for male and female, so you have to go in this one and I’ll go in that one.”

“I do have to go to the bathroom,” Ixchel said.

“Good. Have fun figuring out how to use it.” He was not sure exactly how 20th century toilets worked himself. “I’ll meet you out here.” He waited until she went inside, then went in the boys’ bathroom.

He waited a few minutes inside, looking at his armband. There was a stand of trees right across the road. If they could get over there, they might just escape and be able to get to the train station.

When Felix went outside, Ixchel was standing by the wall. The desk clerk was standing in front of her.

“Ojibway?” the woman said, loudly and slowly. “Cree? Mohawk?” Ixchel just looked back at her placidly. The woman turned when Felix came out. “Which First Nations tribe is she from? I’m going to have to call a translator.”

“She is not First Nations,” Felix said. “She is—” What was a good thing to say? “She is from China.” China? Why did he say that?”

“Okay,” the woman said, looking suspicious. “I can get a Chinese translator on the phone.” She brought Felix and Ixchel back to the front desk. Clearly, she wanted to keep an eye on them. There was another officer waiting for them at the desk. He was young and tall. If they went with him, they might never get away, at least without using the Emergency Evacuation, and Felix was determined not to do that unless there was no other choice.

Just before they got to the desk, Felix leaned close to Ixchel’s ear, going up on tiptoes to get closer. “Let’s run,” he said, then put the armband up to her other ear. Then, without waiting for a reply, he took off running for the front door.

Luckily the two officers had not been expecting them to do that. Felix reached the front door and crashed against the release bar, flinging it open. Ixchel sprinted past him, grabbing his hand and pulling him on. They were in the parking lot. He could hear the tall officer shout from behind them. He felt a hand brush his shirt, but then he dodged around a parked car and heard a thump as the officer ran into the corner of the car. In front of them was a narrow lawn and then on the other side of the road, the trees.

“We just need to get to the trees,” Felix shouted. Ixchel nodded. But as Felix looked ahead, he saw that the trees were not as dense as he had thought. The leaves were small and still coming out. They might not be able to escape there.

A car sped along the road in front of them. Felix looked back to see the officer almost on top of them. Ixchel saw too and darted into the road, pulling Felix too.

Felix saw the flash of lights and heard the screech of brakes. He looked up to see the front grille of a car coming at them. He felt a sharp pain in his stomach and everything faded to black.

The next moment, Felix found himself lying in tall grass. He was still holding Ixchel’s hand. He felt like throwing up.

Ixchel sat up and groaned. “We must be in Xibalba this time,” she said. “That truck must have killed us.”

“I think we got evacuated,” Felix said. “The armband is designed to do that automatically if you are about to get hurt.” He looked at the battery indicator. It said 11%. They would not be able to use the Emergency Evacuation button again. Wherever they were, they were stuck there. He lay back in the grass and closed his eyes.

“Where are we?” Ixchel asked.

“I don’t know,” Felix said, “but I’m glad it’s warm.”

To be continued next week in The Hawai’i Conspiracy

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