“Shouldn’t we turn back?” Shelley was more than a little anxious. This was supposed to be a winter afternoon romp in the Jeep along the back roads of the Rockies near their home in Boulder, not the first chapter in a story about them needing a search and rescue team.
“We’re too low on gas. I’m sure I saw a town when we were at the top of the ridge. If we can just find a main road that connects to this one.” Jen was always the spontaneous adventurer who complemented Shelly’s more easy-going and homebody ways.
“This isn’t a road, it’s a snow drift.” Shelley chuckled nervously trying to make a joke out of what, from her point of view, was becoming an increasingly dire circumstance.
“It’s a road, it’s just one that hasn’t been swept of snow for a while.”
“Like forever?” Admit it. We’re lost.”
“I knew I should have taken that left-hand turn at Albuquerque.”
“Again with the Bugs Bunny jokes.” Now Shelley was genuinely laughing.
“So sue me. My Dad raised me on the classics.” Her attention switched from Shel to the road ahead. “There’s a sign. We must be getting close.”
“Yeah. It says ‘Private Property. No Trespassing.’ Not very encouraging.”
The Jeep continued to lurch and shudder as it fought its way across the uneven snowpack on top of some lost and lonely mountain road.
“There. You see, Shel? The road is plowed just beyond the sign.”
“The sign is on a gate blocking the road.”
“So we go around.” Without waiting for Shelley to reply, Jen swerved abruptly to the right trying to get around the padlocked wooden gate. The Jeep’s left headlight and fender clipped the gate, ripping off pieces of the wooden barrier and causing the vehicle to lurch.
“We’re okay. Relax.”
She deftly maneuvered the Jeep past the gate, down the snow bank and onto the freshly swept dirt roadway.
“See? Nothing to it.”
Shelley, tightly gripping either side of her seat, said nothing while attempting to slow her breathing. Finally she said, “I wish we were back in Boulder.”
“And miss this adventure? Are you kidding?”
Shelley stared at her partner of five years while Jen coolly steered the Jeep around a curve. There were times she truly had no idea why Jen did what she did, and this was one of those times.
Making their way around the curve, Jen and Shelly abruptly gained a clear view of the valley they were descending into.
“Would you look at that, Shel? I told you I saw a town.”
“Good thing, too. The sun’s going down.”
“Good thing since the gas gauge is sitting on ‘E’.”
It was barely fifteen minutes later when they passed a sign saying, “Homestead, Colorado. Pop. 5,673”.
“This place show up on GPS?” Jen saw the first available service station just a block ahead.
“GPS hasn’t worked for the past twenty miles or so.”
Jen pulled the Jeep into the Texaco station on the right muttering, “Looks like it came straight out of ‘Back to the Future’.”
The Jeep came to a stop next to the gas pumps and a man in a uniform with “Texaco” emblazoned across his jacket and hat rapidly approached. The name tag on the other breast pocket proudly declared “Charlie.”
“Need a fill up?” He was smiling at Jen through the partially opened driver’s window.
“Don’t I need to get out and do that?” Jen still felt like she was caught in a scene from the old Michael J. Fox movie’s 1950s sequence.
“Nope. Glad to do it.” He moved around the other side of the vehicle and Jen popped the lever to open the panel covering the gas cap.
Charlie was whistling a tune as he inserted the gas nozzle and pulled the lever. Locking it in place, he returned to Jen’s side of the Jeep.
“Want me to check the oil?”
Jen mutely nodded her head still trying to reconcile these anachronistic events with her life experience. She reached under the dash and pulled the release for the hood.
Charlie checked the oil, the pressure on all four of the Jeep’s tires, and then spoke with Jen again.
“Oil and tire pressure are okay, but looks like you’ve got a broken left headlight and some minor fender damage. Hit something on the way in?”
“Uh…yeah.” Jen got the distinct impression Charlie knew exactly what she’d hit.
“Sun’s just gone down and I don’t think you two should be driving out of here at night. Winter roads are treacherous.”
“You’re probably right.”
Shelley was thankful that the adventuress knew her limits. She called out to Charlie past Jen. “Know of a place we can stay?”
“Sure do. The Carlson Hotel is the best place in town. Reasonable rates too, and it’s only a few blocks from here.”
Jen opened her wallet and offered Charlie her credit card.
“Tell you what. If you want to leave your rig here, I can have it fixed up by tomorrow morning. We can settle up then. I’ll get my partner Bill to run you over to the Carlson.”
As if on cue, another man in a Texaco uniform, taller and younger than Charlie, came over. “You gals have any luggage you want me to unload?”
Jen bristled at the word “gals” but decided against giving Bill a lesson on feminism. “No, we didn’t expect to be out overnight.”
Charlie chimed in again, “If you want to hand me your keys, I’ll pull ‘er into the garage.”
Shelley noticed that Bill topped off the tank, removed and replaced the nozzle and tightened the gas cap in place. She looked up at the gas pump. She saw the total came to $3.42 for exactly 18 gallons of regular.
She rapidly looked at their immediate surroundings. Bill had gone to open up one of the doors to a garage bay. When was the last time she saw a gas station that had a garage to do car repairs?
When was the last time gas was 19 cents a gallon, that gas stations had attendants who pumped gas, checked your oil and tire pressure?
Jen had already gotten out of the Jeep and was taking the vehicle’s key off her key ring. Shelley got out the other side and waited. She saw Bill getting into a tow truck and heard the engine fire up. It said “Charlie’s Texaco” with the phone number “Homestead 6-5890” painted on the side.
“Don’t you worry about a thing. Bill will run you both over to the Carlson and then we’ll get right to work on your Jeep.” Charlie seemed an endless font of encouragement and cheer.
“Thanks. How much do you think it’ll run?” Jen was getting as curious over the oddities she was encountering as Shelley. Charlie didn’t take her credit card, didn’t write out an estimate for repairs, how did she know he even had the parts on hand? Her own mechanic in Boulder would have had to order a new headlight at least.
Charlie rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Oh, maybe ten or fifteen bucks, including labor. No more than fifteen though. You have my word.”
Shelley wondered when the last time was you could take a mechanic’s word for something, or anyone’s word for that matter.
Jen paused to ponder the answer but she was over a barrel. She didn’t know this town, didn’t know where she could find anyone else to fix the Jeep, and frankly was wondering why she would even bother given that it was still drivable.
“Fifteen dollars…American?” The repair price was ludicrously cheap.
“You bet. Have it ready for you no later than eight o’clock tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow’s a Saturday.”
“We aim to please.”
Bill had pulled up with the tow truck and was patiently waiting inside with the heater blasting.
There was something about Charlie that Jen innately trusted but she had no idea why. “Okay. Here’s the key.”
“Great. Now you two better get in the truck and head over to the hotel. Getting pretty cold out.”
He was right. Now that the sun had set, it felt like it was below freezing.
“Thanks. See you tomorrow.” Jen still felt slightly dubious, but in spite of the odd surroundings and insanely cheap prices for gas and repairs, everything about Charlie screamed out that he could be trusted.
Shelley got into the truck first and moved over on the bench seat next to Bill so there was room for Jen to get in. Shelley didn’t feel comfortable around strangers, especially most men, but she told herself this was just a short ride into town. Then she noticed there were no seat belts in the truck.
Jen closed the door mercifully trapping the heated air in the truck’s cab and reminding Shelley that she was shivering.
The ride was short and unlike Charlie, Bill wasn’t much of a conversationalist. When he pulled up in front of the Carlson Hotel, a modest two-story brick building that Shelley thought must be on a registry of historic landmarks, Bill immediately got out, walked around to the passenger door, and opened it for the two of them.
“That wasn’t really necessary. I can open my own doors.” Jen stepped down out of the cab annoyed by Bill’s presumption that she needed his courtesy.
“Sorry, Ma’am. Didn’t mean to offend.” Bill seemed truly hurt and confused by Jen’s rebuff.
Jen stepped onto the sidewalk and a few feet toward the hotel’s entrance as Shelley exited the truck. Shel was more puzzled by Bill’s behavior than offended.
Bill shut the passenger side door. “Just tell Mr. Manners at the front desk that Charlie’s working on your rig and recommended you both stay here the night.”
“Does he get kickbacks for referrals?” While Jen had a sense of trust toward Charlie, she was really getting bugged by Bill.
“Oh heavens no.” Bill wasn’t feigning shock at Jen’s suggestion. “We just want to make sure you gals, uh, young ladies receive every courtesy.”
Jen opened her mouth and Shelley stepped close to her and touched her arm. She whispered, “He’s just trying to be nice. Drop it.”
Jen closed her mouth, opened it again and said, “Thanks.”
Bill stepped around to the driver’s door and opened it, then called out, “Charlie or me will phone the front desk in the morning when your Jeep’s ready. Have a good night.”
Without waiting for the pair to respond, he got into the truck, put it in gear, and roared off.
Jen and Shelley found a quaint lobby facing them when they entered. Presumably, Mr. Manners was the older, balding man in the suit behind the counter.
“You must be the two guests Charlie phoned over about,” he said waving them over. Would you prefer one room or two?”
Jen and Shelley were now standing at the counter as Mr. Manners proffered what appeared to be a sign-in book. An old-fashioned pen inserted in an ink well was sitting next to it.
“One please, with a single bed if you’ve got it.” Jen signed both their names without looking at Manners.
“Uh…that is…very well.” The request for a single bed for the two women seemed to confuse him momentarily. Then the aging gentleman (for he seemed a gentleman right out of a history book on early Americana) turned around and pulled a key attached to a tag out of one of a block of mailboxes.
“Here you go. Room number 10.” Then Mr. Manners rang his desk bell and immediately a uniformed bell hop about sixteen years old came out a door to the left.
“Kenny, take…” Manners briefly consulted the registration book. “Miss Wayne and Miss Barrera to room 10. No luggage.”
Both Jen and Shelley tensed up at Manners’ use of the term “Miss” which was added to the list of strange and discordant experiences they’d had since entering Homestead.
“Right away, Mr. Manners.” Then to Jen and Shelley, Kenny added, “This way, please.”
The boy in the bright red jacket and cap led them to an elevator you only see in old movies. He pulled back a metal gate and opened the doors. The three walked in and Kenny pulled the gate shut. The elevator doors shut and he pulled a handle from the “one” position to “two.” A motor whined and the elevator car lurched up.
Jen leaned over to Shelley and angrily whispered, “Did you hear him call us ‘Miss?’ What is this…?”
“Shhh,” Shelley cautioned. “Wait until we’re in our room.”
If Kenny heard the exchange, he ignored it. Upon arrival on the second floor, he opened the gates and led his charges to room 10. He should have been given the key by Mr. Manners so he could open the door for these guests, but the conversation had been a little strange and Mr. Manners mistakenly gave it to one of the guests.
Jen unlocked the door while Shelley turned to Kenny. “Is there a restaurant nearby?” They hadn’t had a meal since before they set out on this ill-fated journey and she was famished.
“Best meal in Homestead is served right next door at Carol’s Cafe, Ma’am.”
“Thank you.” Shelly tried to ignore the “Ma’am”.
“Have a good evening,” Kenny called out, then he added, “Restroom’s right down the hall.” He indicated further down the corridor. Your room key will open it. Bye now.” With a wave, he headed back toward the elevator.
“In a place like this, I thought he’d wait for a tip.” Shelley was saying this mostly to herself as she watched the bell hop enter the elevator.
“Are you coming inside, Shel?”
Jen’s loud remark startled Shelley out of her musings. “Yes.”
The room was clean and simple. A single queen-sized bed.
“No TV, just a radio that looks like an antique from the 1940s.” Jen had her hands on her hips. “In fact so far, everything we’ve seen in this place seems so old-fashioned including that Ford tow truck Bill drove.”
“No seat belts,” Shelley added. “19 cents for a gallon of gas. Did Manners even quote us a price for the room?”
“No, I was so rattled, I forgot to ask.”
“Well, we’re checked in and we’ve seen the room. Why don’t we ask him on the way to the cafe next door.”
They found Mr. Manners doing some paperwork at the front desk when the elevator deposited them in the lobby.
“Excuse me, Mr. Manners.”
Manners looked up and smiled slightly as Jen spoke. “How may I help you?” Shelly noticed he didn’t add “Miss Wayne.” Supposedly he noticed how disturbed they both were at being called “Miss.”
“I forgot to ask about the room rate.”
“Oh, I apologize. Must have slipped my mind. $11.95 for one night for the both of you.”
Jen was beginning to get used to people quoting these ridiculously cheap prices. “Thanks. Oh, by the way, what’s your WiFi password?”
“WiFi. Doesn’t your hotel offer free WiFi?” It was pretty much a standard in every motel Jen and Shelley had ever stayed in. Even their mechanic and dentist offered free WiFi.
“I’m afraid I haven’t the slightest idea what you’re talking about, M..” Manners stopped himself before uttering the forbidden “Miss”.
“Never mind. Thanks.”
“Not at all. You going over to Carol’s?”
“The cafe? Yes.” Shelley tried to compensate for Jen’s surly attitude.
“Carol makes the best meatloaf I’ve ever had. I recommend it.”
As the two walked toward the door, Jen pulled out her iPhone but couldn’t get a signal. She looked at Shelley who also tried her cell. Nothing.
“No WiFi, no cell service, not even a TV in the hotel room. What the hell?”
Shelley took Jen’s arm as they walked outside. “Calm down.”
“It’s like we’re in a museum. Everything looks like it’s sixty or seventy years old.”
They walked into the cafe as Shelley observed, “No. Everything looks pretty new. It’s styled like it’s sixty or seventy years old.”
“That’s true. Bill’s truck hardly had any wear on it…”
“You two need a table?” They were interrupted by the hostess.
“Yes,” Jen uttered. “Two please.”
She grabbed two menus and guided the pair to an unoccupied table. There were a smattering of other patrons dining in what looked to be the original 1950s diner straight out of “Happy Days”.
Jen and Shelley seated themselves and the hostess handed them their menus. “I’m Carol. Bea will be your waitress. She’ll be coming right out. You folks need anything, just let me know.”
“Thanks,” Jen said. Shelley nodded.
Shelley leaned forward a bit. “Everyone’s clothes.”
“Old fashioned but you’re right. They look brand new, not like costumes or antiques.”
“I feel like I’ve fallen backward in time.”
“Funny, I was thinking of that town in ‘Back to the Future’ when we were at the gas station.”
“Good evening. I’m Bea.” The two were confronted by a short, somewhat round young woman dressed in what vaguely looked like a “country and western” style waitress uniform. “Waitress,” not “wait staff” or “server”. Another anachronism.
“What’ll you have to drink?”
“Water,” Jen replied opening the menu.
“Yes, just water, please,” Shelley added.
“Sure thing. Be right back.” Bea disappeared.
They were perusing their menus when she returned with two glasses of water. “You folks need a little more time?”
Shelley looked up. “How’s the meat loaf?”
“Best in the county. Carol’s own recipe,” Bea replied proudly.
“I think I’ll have that,” said Shelley.
They settled on side dishes. Jen ordered the baked chicken with mashed potatoes. Bea took their menus and was off.
“Can you believe the prices on the menu?”
“Just like everything else we’ve seen. Dirt cheap but it’s consistent with what we’ve seen so far.”
“Shel, do you really think we’ve fallen back in time? I mean, how else can you explain all this?”
“I can’t. I really can’t. But nothing bad has happened to us so while it’s strange, it doesn’t seem to be a problem.”
“Except the sexist attitudes of the men.”
“If you mean being called ‘Ma’am’ and ‘Miss,’ that’s consistent with everything else we’ve seen, too.”
“You mean like in the 1950s?”
“Yeah, Jen. That’s how men would talk to women back then.”
“Great. We’re in sexist hell. Come to think of it, have you seen anyone of color in town? I haven’t. So we’re in sexist and racist hell.”
“We don’t know what’s going on Jen, and for the record, no one has reacted to me being Mexican-American at all, so maybe not so racist.”
When they were served, the meal was one of the best they’d ever had, as if everything had been freshly made back in the kitchen. Like the hotel, the diner seemed simple, basic, but the quality of everything was excellent. The food and even the water had a taste that was astonishingly flavorful.
A bus boy came to clear away their plates and then Bea returned. “You both staying at the Carlson?”
“Yes, why?” Jen thought it an odd question and was wondering when Bea was going to bring their cheque.
“We’ll just have your meal charged to your hotel bill. That way, you can settle up all at once when you check out.”
“Well…thanks.” Shelley couldn’t believe how casual people here were with money and getting paid.
“Anything for dessert?”
“Nope. I’m stuffed.”
“Same here,” Shelley echoed.
“No, we’ll need to get some sleep.”
“That’s fine. Take your time. Don’t have to rush off.”
Bea bustled over to a nearby table to take an order, although it seemed like Jen and Shelley were among just a few other customers left.
In spite of Bea’s assurances, they got up and left. A bitter wind blew down from the nearby peaks chilling Jen and Shelley the moment they stepped outside. They ran for the hotel next door and were freezing by the time they got inside.
“Have a nice meal?” Mr. Manners was still at the front desk.
“Yes, and you were right about the meatloaf.” Shelley smiled at the older man.
“Glad you liked it. Carol serves up a terrific breakfast, too.”
“We’ll keep that in mind,” Shelley said as Jen headed for the elevator. “Good night.”
“Good night,” Manners called after them.
Back in the room, Jen switched on the ancient radio in time to listen to Perry Como’s hit song If. It was the same as she moved the dial up and down the different stations (there were only three actually, and they were all local). Perry Como, Mario Lanza, Nat King Cole, and Tony Bennett.
They heard an ad for the local movie theatre now showing “An American in Paris” starring Gene Kelly.
Jen finally flipped off the radio.
“No TV, no WiFi, the radio plays old hits from the ’50s and the local movie house is showing a film from the same era.”
“I’m tempted to go downstairs and ask Manners what’s going on.” Shelley was sitting on the edge of the bed with her hands folded on her lap.
Jen moved in behind her embraced her, then pushed her down on the sheets. “I’m tempted by someone else.” She gave Shelley a mock leer, then lowered her face and gently kissed her.
They made love until midnight, then drifted off into dreams of time travel.
Jen and Shelley came down the next morning just after eight. Mr. Manners was at the front desk and Shelley wondered to herself if he’d been there all night.
“How’d you two sleep,” he asked in a friendly inquiry.
“Really well, thanks,” Jen replied and then gave Shelley a knowing wink.
“We’ll be back after breakfast,” Shelley called back.
“No rush. Take your time. Oh, Charlie just called. He’ll have your vehicle over in a few minutes.”
“That’s good news. Thanks again,” Jen said as they walked out the front doors.
The wind had died down, but it must have been below 30 degrees.
Jen finished her breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon while Shelley polished off her short stack. The meal was just as intensely tasty as last night. Neither could remember when they’d had food so good.
Over coffee, they held hands, savoring the romantic glow still present from last night. Then Jen leaned over and gently kissed Shelley. Shelley pressed her lips tighter against Jen’s feeling a re-awakening of the previous evening’s passion.
“Mommy! What are those two ladies doing?”
Jen and Shelley instantly turned toward the loud cry that was coming from a little boy about five or six.
His Mom quickly grabbed him and covered his eyes. “Nothing, dear. Nothing,” but she and her husband were staring at them, not the child.
In fact, everyone in the cafe had stopped to stare at Jen and Shelley. No one said a word but they all were apparently aghast at what was just a kiss.
Finally, Carol came over and leaned down speaking to them in a quiet conspiratorial manner. “You two just can’t go around doing that. Not here. I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
Jen stood releasing the outrage that had been simmering within her since she’d first arrived in Homestead. “Look. We have every right to kiss each other. We haven’t done anything wrong.”
“Hush, now.” Carol tried to quiet her.
“I will not hush. This place may look like 1955, but wake up. It’s 2016 and gay people have rights.”
Carol’s mouth hung open and then started moving, but no words came out.
The door opened and two police officers walked in, seemingly seeking breakfast like the rest of the patrons.
Witnessing the scene, the first officer asked, “Everything okay here, Carol?”
Carol turned to him and managed to regain her voice. “I was just asking these two young women to leave, Ron.” The disdain in her voice was obvious.
Shelley stood up. “Jen, maybe we should…”
“No way. We haven’t done anything wrong.” She was still trying to stare down Carol.
“Carol?” The second officer spoke up.
Carol went over to them and whispered something, probably about the “offense” Jen and Shelley had committed.
The eyes of both officers widened as Carol stepped aside.
They walked over to Jen and Shelley. “This is Carol’s place and she has the right to ask anyone to leave for whatever reason she wants.” The officer called Ron, salt and pepper hair showing from beneath his hat, tried to take Jen by the arm, but she pulled away.
“Keep you hands off me, dammit.”
“This is a family place. Watch your language,” the officer sharply replied.
“Jen.” Shelley moved close to her partner. “We don’t want any trouble. We should just leave. Maybe the Jeep is ready to go.”
Jen kept looking at the officer. “Fine. I’ve had it with this town anyway.”
She grabbed Shelley by the hand and the two swept past Carol and the two officers, burst through the doors and out onto the sidewalk. Looking to their left toward the hotel, they saw their now repaired Jeep parked out front.
“I suggest you settle up your account at the hotel and leave town without any more trouble, young lady.” The voice addressing Jen was one of the officers. They both followed the pair outside.
Jen wheeled about preparing to launch into a loud and highly aggressive lecture about abuse of police authority, feminism, and gay rights when someone shouted, “Okay, stop!”
Everything and everyone completely froze.
The sun was higher in the sky now and the temperature was tolerable, but every single man, woman, and child within sight had stopped moving as if suspended in ice or like pausing a DVD. Besides Jen and Shelley, only one other person moved, a man.
He was walking over to them from the direction of the hotel. He was dressed in what looked to be modern clothing. He could have been in his late sixties or early seventies. Still in pretty good shape and he gave Jen and Shelley a very determined look.
“When you two arrived, I chose to overlook the fact that you were trespassing and had the townspeople treat you with every courtesy. Staying one night would do no harm to my tranquility, I thought. Seems I was wrong.”
“What are you talking about? Who are you? What’s wrong with everyone?”
“Nothing’s wrong with them, Ms. Wayne. I just told the town to stop. Now I’ll have to reset everything once you’ve gone. It’s going to cause me a great deal of trouble.”
“How do you know my name? What is this place?”
Shelley clutched Jen’s arm. “Jen, this is creeping me out. Maybe we should just leave.”
“Not until I get some answers.”
“Young woman, you seem to have more guts than sense. You should take your cue from Ms. Barrera who seems more aware of the gravity of your situation. Homestead is a place you should never have found and one in which you do not belong.”
“Why? Because we’re lesbians?”
“No, because you’re from the 21st century.”
“You mean we really have travelled back in time?” Shelley had only been half-joking last night, but now…
“No, of course not. Time travel’s impossible. This is my retirement community.”
It was Jen’s turn to express astonishment. “Your what?”
The man took a deep breath, looked down as if trying to make a decision, and then looked at the two women again.
“My name is Harold Jason Connors. Before I retired, I was the President and CEO of Connors Cybernetics.”
“I read about him, Jen. He’s one of the wealthiest men in the world. He retired something like six years ago and disappeared.”
“Seven years, Ms. Barrera. Seven years. I’ve lived in Homestead ever since.”
“So…” Jen waved her arms around indicating the town.
“They’re not real. Everyone, every person, every dog, every cat is a cybernetic device run from a central database. An idealized simulation of the town I grew up in circa 1951.”
“Why?” Jen meant to shout but it came out as a whisper.
“Not that it’s any of your business, but when I retired, I wanted to go home to the only place I felt was home, but it no longer existed.”
“Your hometown’s not there anymore?”
“It’s there, Ms. Barrera. It’s just changed. They have all these things like cable TV, the Internet, social networking, liberal news media that spends all its time editorializing instead of actually reporting factual news.”
“Oh, I get it.” Jen took the offensive again. “You wanted to go home to a racist, sexist, misogynistic, patriarchal, Islamophobic, homophobic, transphobic paradise. Do you want me to curtsy or should I snap off a Nazi salute?”
Instead of responding with anger, Connors sighed. “Young lady, haven’t you ever wanted to go home again, home to the only place and time on Earth where you felt completely loved and accepted?”
“That hasn’t been invented yet, Connors. “When I was seventeen and came out to my parents, they kicked me out. I’ve been sexually assaulted by men twice since then. One of them even had the nerve to say it might ‘cure’ me. I won’t have the kind of home you’re talking about until dinosaurs like you go extinct.”
Even as she was issuing her retort, she was stung by the sudden memory of being seven years old and watching Bugs Bunny cartoons while cuddling up to her Daddy. She had a loving home once, but her family betrayed her when she came out to them. Now she had Shelley, but a lot of people were still fighting against their rights, including men like Connors.
“I remind you that you arrived at Homestead uninvited. You ignored the ‘no trespassing’ sign, damaged the gate blocking the road into town, and breezed in like you owned the place. Well you don’t own it, I do, and everything else for twenty-five miles around.”
“Is that why we can’t get a cell signal?” Shelley was hoping to offer a voice of reason in a totally unreasonable situation.”
“I generate a jamming signal to block it, plus the nearest cell tower is fifty miles away.”
“How can you live like this, Connors?” This is worse than the ‘Andy Griffith Show’.”
“Actually, I have very fond memories of that show, Ms. Wayne. Frankly, I got tired of the modern world. Odd for a cybernetics expert, I know. I wanted to live a simpler life in my twilight years and leave all the social and political controversy behind.”
“Do you know how insulting all this is to us.” Jen waved her arms around again.
“You were never supposed to know about Homestead, Ms. Wayne. You and Ms. Barrera are the intruders. This is my home and I’m asking you to leave.”
“Don’t you have anyone in the real world? How can you live here all alone with a bunch of machines?” Unlike Jen who held nothing but contempt for Connors, Shelley nurtured a small seed of compassion and even pity.
“My wife died of cancer many years ago, Ms. Barrera. She was never able to have children and we chose not to adopt. I’ve outlived everyone else in my family. No, my friends, my family are here, or at least a simulation of them.
I suppose I shouldn’t have programmed them to have the response you saw in Carol’s Cafe, but I gave them all personalities and biases consistent with small town Colorado in 1951. That’s how most people would have reacted to two women kissing on the lips in a public place back then. I never expected it would actually happen here.”
“You guessed wrong.”
“You are trespassing, Ms. Wayne. You keep avoiding that fact.”
Jen sighed, finally getting tired of the argument. “What do we owe for the food, lodging, and repair work?”
“As you might imagine, if I can afford to build an entire town and populate it with over 5,000 realistic androids, I don’t need the pittance you have to offer me. Besides, there are no credit card readers in 1951 and I doubt if you carry much cash, being millennials.”
“Then we’ll go. Wait. What about the snow on the road once we get past the gate? We almost didn’t make it across yesterday.”
“The answer is waiting for you at the very same gate, Ms. Wayne. A snow plough, yes driven by one of my ‘people,’ will clear the way for you and then the snow will be replaced afterward. You will be able to return to your world safely, and I’ll be able to return to mine.”
Jen looked at the now repaired headlight and fender. “I can’t even tell there was any damage.”
“I run an excellent machine shop here, Ms. Wayne.”
“Come on, Jen. Let’s go.”
“Fine.” Jen turned back to Connors. “Enjoy your little fantasy world, Connors. The rest of us will be progressing forward in time to a much better one, the real one.”
“Your opinion, Ms. Wayne.”
Jen opened her mouth to respond but Shelley stopped her, “Jen!”
Glaring at Connors one last time, Jen opened the driver side door and got in. The key was in the ignition. Shelley opened the passenger door and stopped. She felt like she should say something to the old man; maybe apologize for their mistake in ever coming into Homestead. She decided she really did pity him, unable to let go of the past and accept what the future had become.
Instead, she got in, closed the door, and buckled up.
Jen turned on the engine, flipped a u-turn, and was doing 55 in a 30 mph zone as she passed the city limits leaving Homestead forever.
Harold Jason Connors spent the rest of the day resetting the Homestead system and come Sunday morning, he joined the 250 or so other parishioners at the First Baptist Church, and prayed that the rest of the world wouldn’t break into his home for the rest of his life.