So, I missed Cait Gordon’s Flash Fiction Draw last month—that is to say, I started it but didn’t have time to finish it. And I’ve got to admit, it would have been a fun one: an action adventure set at a fandom gathering and featuring a silk garment. My entry would have been titled “The Parade of Leias” and would have featured someone dressed as General Leia getting kidnapped at a ComiCon, but alas, life intervened. Maybe I’ll go back and finish it eventually.
Yeah, I know. Right.
But anyway. I did manage to work on something for June’s challenge—and like Cait, I feel kind of weird writing this frivolous bit of throwaway fun in the midst of a global pandemic and a nationwide upheaval against racial injustice. And I don’t want to make this bit of fun sound like anything more important than a bit of fun, but if reading about a time-traveling drag queen meeting a certain woman in World War II Washington, D.C., amuses you for a little bit (you can read more about her adventures here), well then, mission accomplished. And then get back to the important work of changing the world.
Also, I may be slightly over the 1,000-word limit. But then I never was very good at following rules.
Miss Vida emerged from the time cabinet first, grateful to be released from the vessel’s cramped confines. She was convinced it was actually smaller on the inside than it was on the outside. Herbert stumbled out after her, accompanied by a plume of smoke, and waved a handkerchief about.
“Are you all right, my dear?” he asked.
“Perfectly fine, darling.” She’d extracted her own handkerchief from her sleeve and dabbed at her forehead. Clearly, they’d arrived in summer, wherever they were, and they weren’t dressed for it. “Do you happen to know what year it is?”
Herbert shook his head and wiped the sweat from his face. “Hotter than the fourth of July though, by the feel of it.”
Miss Vida frowned. She’d never liked Independence Day celebrations. Far too much noise and explosions. They frightened her cat.
She took in their surroundings. The time cabinet had landed in what appeared to be a narrow side alley between two tall stone buildings. The shade provided some relief against the heat, and she was in no hurry to venture beyond it. And yet…
“Dearest,” she said, “why are we here?”
Herbert hemmed and hawed a bit before sparing a backward glance at the cabinet. “Honestly, heart, I don’t know. I calibrated the temporal actuators to take us back to 1904 St. Louis, but—“
His words were cut off by a cacophony from the street just beyond the alley. Miss Vida gaped in awe as a monstrous contraption lurched passed on the roadway, a sound like a siren blaring. She took a step back and stumbled into Herbert.
“Good heavens, what was that?”
Herbert had removed his monocle from his waistcoat pocket and scurried past her, peering around the corner in the direction the thing had gone. “If I’m not mistaken, it looks like a newfangled version of Mister Ford’s Model T.”
“So we’re in the future,” she said.
He nodded. “And yet, it seems not quite as—is future-fied a word?”
Miss Vida smiled indulgently. “Futuristic, perhaps?”
“That’s it! As futuristic as our friend Master Jake’s time period.”
“So, not 1904, but not 2018. I suppose that narrows it down a bit, but…”
Herbert looked the other way down the street and, gasping, pointed. “My dear! We’re in the capital!”
“We’re in Jefferson City?” She came to stand by his side and looked in the same direction. On the other side of the street, up ahead, loomed what might have been the most famous home in all of America.
“Ah, the District of Columbia.” Miss Vida clutched his sleeve. “Herbert! We’ve traveled in time as well as space! This is at least a thousand miles from St. Louis, and all in a matter of seconds! Truly extraordinary.”
“But when is still the question.”
As they ventured further out of the alley, Miss Vida took note of the people they passed and how they were dressed: many people wearing uniforms of sorts, and the women’s skirts were scandalously tight—and barely covered their knees! She almost blushed to look at them, but she had to admit they were a most flattering cut.
Apparently, she wasn’t the only one who noticed, either. She slapped Herbert’s arm. “Propriety, Herbert.”
“Ahem, yes, of course.” He made a show of looking anywhere but at the passersby, and his gaze settled on a poster that had been plastered against the brick wall of one of the buildings along the sidewalk. “What do you think they mean by ‘Buy War Bonds’?”
“War bonds? Is America at war?” Miss Vida pressed her handkerchief to her forehead and her other hand to her bosom. “Jake said nothing of wars. You’d think he would have mentioned something as important as that, surely.”
“Perhaps there’s been more than one conflict between our era and his, dearest,” Herbert said, not unsympathetically.
“But, how could that be possible? Surely—oh!”
Miss Vida cried out as a young, uniformed woman rushed past her into the alley where the cabinet was. She was slender, but tall, and wore overly large spectacles and her hair pulled back severely. And she clipped Vida in the elbow as she passed, sending her spinning and tumbling to the sidewalk. Herbert exclaimed and knelt next to her, helping her up to a sitting position. Miss Vida touched the back of her head gingerly.
“First spiders, now this. Clearly, this is not my day.”
She opened her purse and pulled out a pill bottle. Jake had given her some of the most astonishing analgesics after her run-in with the arachnid, and she felt like now would be a good time to take one, even if she didn’t have any tea to wash it down. Meanwhile, Herbert helped her to her feet and they followed the woman into the alley.
And found themselves standing face to face with a Valkyrie.
Where there had been a tall but mousey young thing there was now a formidable-looking warrior, her leather outfit in bright colors and even more revealing than the other woman’s skirt. No spectacles and no harsh bun, this woman glared at them from beneath a bronze tiara, and her hair flowed freely to her shoulders. Bracelets of polished chrome extended from her elbows to her fists, and in those fists she clutched a glowing yellow rope.
“Who are you?” she demanded. She cocked her head toward the time cabinet behind her. “What is that?”
“It’s…” Herbert trailed off. “It’s ours.”
“It’s some kind of machine, isn’t it?”
Miss Vida stepped forward, her hands on her hips. The Valkyrie may have been almost as tall as her, but Miss Vida’s hairdo and millinery at least gave her the illusion of several additional inches of height. “And what if it is? Are we breaking any local ordinances by leaving it here?”
“No, but you will answer my question.”
Suddenly, Miss Vida found herself encircled by the glowing rope. She gasped at the flare of heat that seemed to emanate from the golden lariat—and at the overwhelming urge to speak that welled up from inside her, even as Herbert pulled at the rope.
“Herbert, don’t. It’s all right.” Miss Vida smiled at the woman. “Yes, it’s a machine. It’s a temporal accelerator, but we’ve decided to call it a time cabinet. Sounds much less stuffy, don’t you think?”
Herbert practically bared his teeth at the Valkyrie. “Release her. She’s done nothing to you!”
Holding the lariat with one hand, the Valkyrie placed her other hand gently on Herbert’s forearm. “I will not hurt her. You have no need to fear.”
“What happened to the young woman in the black uniform who came down this alley a moment ago?” Miss Vida asked. She narrowed her eyes and peered at the Valkyrie, scrutinizing her features. “She’s… she’s you, isn’t she?”
Now it was the Valkyrie’s turn to gasp. “How did you…”
Miss Vida chuckled and placed her hands on the golden cord, gently loosening its hold on her. “Darling, rest assured I recognize a good drag performance. As the saying goes, it takes one to know one.”