Things weren’t all that strange, until Theodore Roosevelt showed up at my front door.
Especially strange because he wore a Union uniform, like those of the civil war. Yet- I know this because I searched the answer on my phone before opening the door – Roosevelt was seven years old when the civil war ended.
“I say, good day chap!” He bellowed at me.
I strained to hear him, over the engines of fighter planes, explosions, and shouting military men who were trampling my front lawn.
“What’s going on?” I asked, standing in my sweats.
I’d fallen asleep early that evening and could have sworn dusk had been and gone before I closed my eyes. Now it was daylight, early morning from the angle of the sun.
“Quadwallups, lad! They’re taking over the city. I dare say. We’ve gotta fight back and I need your help!” He said, the glasses on his face glinted at me, and his large mustache twitched like a rabbit’s tail.
“Quad-whats? Are you sure you don’t have the wrong address?” I responded.
A large explosion shook the ground and shattered my ears.
“Sorry, son. You’ve got to speak up! Up, up, up!” He shouted kindly, waving a cigar the size of a sausage, then he took a few puffs.
“Sir! Sir! Quad-“ A soldier shouted from the front yard. But he was cut short when something insanely fast swooped down and took him away as he screamed. I didn’t want to admit what I thought I just saw.
However, the sight gave me pause. All the soldiers stomping around my lawn wore uniforms from nearly every major war throughout time, as if everyone got different memo’s on dress code.
“What the-?” I said to Roosevelt, who didn’t even turn to see the soldier.
“Quadwallups! I told you, I need your help! There’s no time for idle chit chat, my boy.” Roosevelt said, but he was so calm I couldn’t tell if he was serious.
I began to tremble, whether from the rumble of earth rending machines or bombs going off in the distance or the fact that I was terrified – I couldn’t be certain.
“I-I’m not exactly dressed for war.” I said uneasily.
We both looked down at my attire and I thought of how easily my velvety soft sweats, worn smooth from a decade as my favorites, would be disintegrated on a battlefield.
“I say, you look quite alright to me. Freedom of movement and such. But if you prefer to fall in line with the boys, I can make an arrangement.” Roosevelt turned, stuck two fingers in his mouth, and whistled loudly.
In a short moment, a six foot something, skinny as a fishing rod, soldier came running up to us, holding a parcel in his arms.
“Sir, you called, Sir.” The soldier stood straight, looming over the two of us, but he didn’t salute because his arms were occupied with the large box.
“Fine work son! Excellent timing. Hand the package to the General, if you would.”
To my surprise, the soldier handed me the package. His eyes met mine for a moment before he nodded and released its weight into my arms. The box was ungodly heavy and I nearly toppled into the entryway from its heft. After which, the soldier ran back out into the front yard, charging into battle.
“What”, I groaned, “is this?”
“Your uniform, son! Hurry along, there isn’t much time to waste! Quadwallups will destroy everything if we don’t act fast!”
I retreated into the hallway, closing the door a degree to shield as I changed but not all the way.
The cardboard box was held together with twine, tied neatly in a bow with a label attached to the end of a string, on which was scribbled ‘Pull here’.
I fumbled for a moment but managed to pull the knot loose, after which, the box unfolded on its own. I leapt back, afraid it was a bomb or Quadwallup trapped inside.
A coat rack grew from the center of the box like a plant until finally it stood gleaming in front of me, laden with a sparkling uniform.
On top, rested a full face helmet, shaped like a fish bowl. Below the helmet, hung a rubber suit, gloves and boots seamlessly attached. There was an air tank on the back, the kind divers use underwater.
I stood, unsure what to do next or even how to put it on, when Roosevelt hollered from the doorway.
“Hurry, Son! We haven’t got all day.”
At that, I grabbed the rubber suit, which to my surprise was very light.
A zippered slit ran up the right side and curved along the chest to the opposite side, allowing me to pull it on. The suit was suffocating against my skin and I immediately began to sweat, but it fit perfectly. Once zipped, I took the helmet from the rack and pulled it over my head. It attached securely to notches in the neck of the suit and, once connected, cool air flooded the chamber from the supplied oxygen.
At this point, I really wished there was a nearby mirror but I didn’t have the time to run to the bathroom. I looked down and realized the suit was form fitting, which made me uncomfortable when I saw the not quite complimenting bulge of my penis below.
“Ahh, splendid! You look quite fitting. Yes, striking I might add.” Roosevelt said when I arrived at the front door. He gave me a once over and again I felt uncomfortable.
“Here.” He placed an object the size and shape of a large flashlight in my hands.
“What’s this?” I asked, moving my thumb over button to test it.
“DON’T TOUCH THAT!” Roosevelt shouted and jumped to the side.
Frightened, I moved my thumb a great distance from the button.
“Sorry.” I apologized, not knowing why.
He wiped sweat from his brow.
“It’s a M-72. A Mallarky. It’s the finest Mallarky we have. Highly potent, deadly in fact. You’ll need this to fight the Quadwallups but you must not press that button until the time is right. Do you understand?”
“Well, you’ll get the hang of it soon. We must be off! Let’s get to it.”
With that, Roosevelt spun on his heels and walked off toward the front yard. I followed, hurrying to keep up with his pace.
The front lawn had been transformed from the peaceful place I once knew to a chaotic mess of soldiers and equipment. Many of them worked to set up sandbag walls at the edge of the road, others stood in tight circles overlooking maps. They wore WWII uniforms, civil war dress, current fatigues, or, strange as it sounds, fighting clothes from the revolutionary war. Machine guns, muskets, or revolvers slung from their shoulders or hung from their hips.
At the road, a tank rolled by, crunching the asphalt like graham crackers.
Overhead, propeller planes zoomed by, soon followed by air rending fighter jets. Explosions rocked the earth. People shouted. Guns clapped. None of it made any sense.
“What are you doing here?” I asked Roosevelt when we turned up the road behind the tank.
“Quadwallups! I already told you that, my boy.” He responded.
“I got that. I meant, what are you, Theodore Roosevelt, doing here?”
“Theo-who?” He shouted back at me.
“DUCK!” A soldier yelled from our side.
Just then, a whistle cut through the air, and Roosevelt tackled me flat to the road. A split second later, a missile sunk into my neighbors house and exploded. The structure went up in a showering plume of splinters.
“Theodore Roosevelt. You died almost a hundred years ago. Dead presidents don’t go walking around in a civil war uniforms in broad daylight.”
“You’re not making any sense, son.”
Clearly, I wasn’t the one making sense.
We turned down Maple street, going downhill now, headed for the city center. I looked up to see a swarm of planes and jets circling the skyscrapers, hovering and firing ammunition at something I couldn’t see. It looked like a vision out of the end of the world, in several different eras.
“You’re not Roosevelt, are you?” I shouted as jeeps screamed past us, turret gunners as stern as statues on top.
“Well, I wouldn’t quite say that. I am and I’m not at the same time, if you know what I mean.”
“Simple enough, I am the form of this man but I am not him.”
“Like a ghost?”
“No, not a ghost. Go ahead, give my arm a shove. You’ll see that I’m quite real.”
I shoved him. His form was solid. I shook my head and holstered the Mallarky in a sheath at my waist.
“Some would call me a concept. Though old and far in the past, I’m as solid as you are. Even more so, from what I’ve heard.” He adds.
“So you’re the REAL Theodore Roosevelt? This is crazy.”
“Call me what you like, it makes little difference to me. But, to label it crazy, is far from the truth. Simply speaking, I’m a Filament.”
“A filament? Like fiberglass?”
“Their are similarities, this is true. A Filament’s job is to hold things together, especially when something is in the business of tearing it apart. Normally, you wouldn’t see me. I’m quite good at being invisible but the state of affairs has forced my hand. Do you know what I’m getting at?” Roosevelt huffed.
“Quadwallups?” I asked.
Roosevelt nodded somberly.
An explosion hit, blocks away, everyone on the road swayed. We were in a caravan of tanks and infantrymen, headed through the industrial district, on course for downtown.
I began to notice that most of the soldiers paused a moment as they trotted past, nodding to Roosevelt and I. It made me realize that I was the only one wearing a suit like mine or carrying an M-72. A trickle of sweat ran down my temple. The soldiers were looking at me like I was their savior or secret weapon. The idea lodged like a softball in my throat.
“Why am I the only one wearing one of these suits?” I asked nervously.
“We’ll get to that, my boy. Have you been debriefed yet?”
“I say, you’re quite good at repeating me.” He chuckled. “Simple yes or no works pretty well in my experience. Anyhow, we must get to the point of things, no time to dally around the hilt, if you get my meaning.”
The M-72 blinked blue and beeped. I looked down, worried I’d triggered it accidentally.
“Never mind that. It’s blue when you’re in Quadwallup territory. Until it’s steady red, theres no need for concern. As I was saying, we need to get you up to speed.”
He took a few quick puffs of his cigar before speaking again.
“This is a terrible inconvenience for you, I’m sure, but we needed your help. Normally, we don’t show ourselves to Filaments along the current timeline. We operate in the background, you see, like the inner workings of a clock or the guts of a television. Sure, you may know the product of our work quite well. So well, in fact, that you don’t notice it anymore. Just like you don’t question your watch if it’s in working order. Are you following?”
I nodded but I wasn’t certain.
“Well, Filaments are always at odds with Quadwallups. We’re at war, been that way since the dawn of the new age. Our battles are monitored by the conventions. There is a set of codes by which we are bound, otherwise the operation would fall into chaos. Complete and utter chaos. As I said, Filaments don’t usually show themselves but we had no choice.”
“What do you mean?”
“The Quadwallups organized a coup and jumped the timeline, to the present.”
“And that’s bad?”
“Very bad! Quadwallups are our opposing force, they are the opposite of structure. Continually trying to break up the Filaments. Quadwallups are what you might call the space between and, if too much space gets between Filaments, we fall apart. What happens if we fall apart? Chaos my, boy. Doom to our kind.”
He said the last part with a particular darkness.
“Since the Quadwallups jumped the timeline, there are too many of them in the present. They’re tearing apart the current Filaments, spreading them apart until they snap. The more the Filaments snap, the wider the hole gets. The wider the hole, the more Quadwallups flood in. It’s a vicious cycle, my boy. If we cant stop them, Quadwallups from every timeline since the dawn of the age will flood into the present. Do you know what happens then?” Roosevelt said, glancing at me.
“Chaos?” I muttered.
He shook his head.
“The end of the world.”
We were nearly the heart of the city, leaving the factories behind, and began walking under the shadows of skyscrapers. The roaring buzz of old fighter planes above, the groan of the tanks ahead, louder now and echoing against the buildings.
A screech, like someone dragging a nail on a chalkboard in front of a mammoth loudspeaker, shrieked in my ears. Following the sound was a pain that felt like my guts were being rearranged.
When I looked up, many of the soldiers writhed on the ground, some lay dead. I glanced at Roosevelt in terror.
“They’re breaking through our lines! Come with me!” He shouted.
We cut into an alley, it was empty except the two of us.
“Was that a Quadwallup?” I ask, panting.
“Yes, the bastards are getting stronger. We must act fact. I’m afraid it might be too late.”
We picked up our pace.
“You said the Quadwallups are the space between but I still don’t understand how they’re stronger than the Filaments. A void seems powerless to me.”
“You’ve got the right idea, lad. But I’m afraid the space between is often stronger than connection, especially when the Filaments are corroded. We try to correct things before they disintegrate altogether but sometimes we miss a spot or two and the connection snaps. The level of corrosion has sped to a rapid rate this age, like nothing I’ve seen before.”
We’d made two turns by this point, with each, we snaked closer to the city center. The report of canons thumped in my chest. We passed soldiers laying in the streets, screaming from their backs, or face down and silent.
“What can I do about this? I don’t see how I can stop something this powerful.” I said shakily.
“There’s a lot you can do, especially with the M-72 at your side. We’re all with you in this, battalions of Filaments are pouring in from across time for this battle. The Quadwallups have broken the code. It isn’t the first time it’s happened but, I dare say, it’s worse than I’ve ever seen.”
“You said the Filaments were corroded, does that mean they’ve defected to the Quadwallups?”
“No, it just means they’ve been weakened to the point their connection no longer has presence. As I said before, Filaments are like concepts but I should be more direct. Filaments are laws. The laws that have held true since the dawn of the new age. Similar to science and mathematics but those are only the studies and interpretation of these laws. The laws exist whether or not they are studied. Do you follow?”
I nod. We hopped over a sandbag wall and took a left.
“The laws must be heeded but this is in the hands of the Filaments of the present. This is where the Quadwallups do their best work, in the current age. Do you knit, son?”
“Knit?” I asked, confused.
“Yes, knit. Anyhow, imagine a kitting project, one that’s perpetually in construction. A sweater. A blanket. A scarf. Whatever suits you. Imagine the needles and thread at the helm, these are similar to the Filaments of the present. If you direct your eyes below the needles, you will see the Filaments and Quadwallups of the past, draping beneath. In most places there are orderly gaps where Quadwallups are contained. Yet, in others, there are distortions and holes, sometimes sweeping blank spaces. These are where Quadwallups have broken the code before but even then, many of these spaces have been patched over and concealed where they should have been left as a reminder. This is what Filaments of your age call history. You see, Quadwallups and Filaments are necessary because they are opposites and the code insists that opposites exist. It is only when Quadwallups get out of hands that things get messy. Bloody messy, I might add. Still with me, son?”
“I think so. What are we knitting?”
“A simple juxtaposition, son. We’re not knitting anything. This is the fabric of the universe we’re talking about.” Roosevelt huffs.
The guns became louder as we approached a wide city street, running perpendicular to the end of the alley. War machines flickered past, heading to the right.
“WHOA! WHOA! WHOA!” Roosevelt hollered as we emptied from the alley but it was too late.
I stumbled onto the sidewalk and bumped into a soldier. Only, when I looked up, I realized it was a young woman, holding a phone in her hand, wearing a pantsuit. She snorted and walked off, mumbling about me being a jerk.
It wasn’t long before someone else bumped into me. I looked around and realized I was in the middle of city center, it was a normal day, people walked around in droves, heading from coffee shops to offices, sidewalks to cabs. Horns honked, people yelled, a dog barked in the distance. Large screens attached to high-rises flashed the latest news headlines. DOW drops 700 points, the president denies collusion, violence in the east. The usual.
I glanced at myself in the reflection of a nearby window, I was no longer wearing the suit, just jeans and a simple hoodie.
Around me, people scurried by like a colony of ants, following the signal of a single consciousness. I looked to the alley where I’d left Roosevelt and scrambled back toward it. But, once in front of it, I saw that it wasn’t an alley, but street art that looked like an alley. In the center of the painting was a huge portrait of Theodore Roosevelt with a message bubble next to his face. Codswallop™, it read in the message bubble. In the lower corner of the painting was another inscription, Definition: No Nonsense Media.
Immediately, I reached for the place on my hip where I’d stowed the M-72. The only thing there was my phone, attached to the belt clip. When I pulled the phone up, the screen turned bright red, holding the color for three seconds, before it blinked dark. When I pressed the home button, the screen came to life, and the lock screen wallpaper was a photo I hadn’t seen in years.