Without the instruction manual, she was having a hard time getting the time machine to work. If she had the manual, the steps would be spelled out clearly: flip those three switches, but not the fourth, punch in the year, then adjust those two knobs, but not the third, and depress the beveled silver button until it emitted its little buzz of confirmation. Get the sequence wrong and the machine shuddered, as if trying to shake out whoever was inside.
It was getting late. She needed to get back home, sneak back into her bedroom, and stuff her clothes somewhere deep in her closet. No one had warned her about that, and it surprised her the first time – that she would come back smelling like the past. It seeped into her sweatshirts and stunk up her jeans.
She tried another sequence. Wrong again. The machine trembled, and for longer than the last time. She dug her fingers into the armrest and waited for it to pass.
The time machine didn't have any windows, but it did have a peephole. When the shaking subsided, she stepped up onto the narrow ledge and pressed one eye into the red-rimmed circle and closed the other. The time machine's shuddering was undoubtedly noisy, but all she could do was hope that the bushes she had landed in were softening the sound.
From what she could see of the street, it was empty. Empty, except for a boy sitting next to a dog on a porch a few doors down. But he wasn't – oh. But now he was up. He was coming this way, and the dog was following. She held her breath. She waited for the boy to pass, but he kept walking toward the machine.
When he pulled back the leaves and his chubby face filled the entire peephole, she let out her breath and cried out. She fell back from the peephole and fumbled around in the tight interior of the machine. The emergency button was here, somewhere, and it was orange, or red-orange – or was it yellow?
There it was. Yellow. On the ceiling, just out of reach. One big jump and she'd be able to reach it. And then the time machine would disappear – poof! – and spit her out into a random year, simultaneously draining the battery, forcing her to survive on her own for a month, maybe two, while it recharged.
"Dad!" the boy was yelling, on the other side of the metal shell. "Come 'ere! Look what I found!"
Now or never. She jumped up. She hit the yellow button, wondered if it was something she'd regret forever, then felt the time machine lift and compress around her body before her feet could touch back down.