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It might be odd that Pooja P. Humphries has cockroaches for pets that travel loyally on the handlebar of her amazing time-traveling Walmart shopping cart, but she’s definitely whip-smart. She runs the Pooja Mysterium of Assorted Aritifacts and Wonders in the ancient world, after all. Oh yes, and she’s been brilliantly evading the super-bad CIA men for years. They destroyed her life’s work long ago and have been after her ever since. But when someone finally finds her time machine portal, could her reality be different than she believes?

Pooja And The Portal Pursuer

by Valerie Brook

Copyright © 2019 by Valerie Brook. All rights reserved.

Published by Kickit Press/kickitpress.com

Cover and Layout Copyright © 2019 by Kickit Press

Cover Art: travis blessing/pexels.com

This is a work of fiction. Name, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual events or locals or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction, in whole or in part in any form.

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THE OLD WOMAN TIME traveler, Pooja P. Humphries, (who appeared to any outsider to look baggy and dirty and homeless), had finally passed through the deadly Ubari Desert alone last night under a blanket of twinkling gold stars and a warm westerly wind that smelled of baked cinnamon and rattlesnakes. 

The swirls of darkness had been thick and powerful, frightening; the horizon diminished to a thin glowing chick-scratch of dusky orange. 

Now, a pale pink dawn softened over the wide and warming sky, and in this utter expanse of flat nothings, far off in the distance, Pooja could see the blue sparkling wave of the Great Flat Sea as it began its quarterly high tide. 

In a few minutes the cool salt water would hit her dusty toes.

* * *

Two days ago, Pooja had reentered the time travel portal just like usual; but in an unusual mistake, she had gotten disoriented in the nighttime desert and walked around in circles, (her eyesight wasn’t what it used to be), utterly lost on the vast cracked-clay plains of a pre-Egyptian earth, with her elastic head-torch from Home Depot blazing as bright as a commuter train.

Okay, not that bright. 

Pooja’s progress had been as slow as, oh, I don’t know—how about a homeless woman pushing a shopping cart.

Pooja proudly pushed a heavy-gauge steel Walmart Elite. 

And it was stuffed to the brim with items and covered with multi-colored tarps. 

Her three pet Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, (Curly, Moe, and Jane) sat up front on the handlebar, their antennae waggling. Alert and watchful. Three inches long and loyal to the death, her cockies would emit a low-toned hiss when they sensed danger.

Pooja’s Elite had a squeaky left front wheel and the sides proclaimed proudly in blue-and-white English: SAVE MONEY. LIVE BETTER.

(Who cared about saving money? Just spend it; after all, we only live once. Perhaps.)

But the ‘Live Better’ part really was catchy. It was just a plain sentence but it still worked. 

Who doesn’t want to live better?

The thought of all the new swag and booty and sale items in her shopping cart made Pooja smile underneath the hood of the brown bath towel she had wrapped over her head like a hoodie without the rest of the sweatshirt.

She also wore a fluffy brown dress right down to the flipflops on her feet, the cheapest ones on the rack at Payless, which she was now worried she might blow-out. 

Fortunately, it had been August of the 21st century in the United States of America, which she had just visited through the time travel portal to do her monthly business. (So flipflops were appropriate attire in both the past and the present time.)

Pooja was of low stature, average weight, and had one hazel-green eye and one light blue, when you could actually see both eyes at once under her wild tangle of long white hair. Her hair could defy gravity in unexpected ways, or maybe it had a dual personality; one side a soft, gentle downward flow, and one side manic bramble bushes and stiff cactus.

It was probably because she only slept on her left side these days. Otherwise her shoulder hurt.

And anyway, when you were homeless in 21st Century Los Angeles, you didn’t need to brush your hair, as per social expectation. And when you owned The Pooja Mysterium of Assorted Artifacts and Wonders in a pre-Egyptian earth village just at the edge of the Ubari Desert (Los Angeles in a time so ancient it was lost to any archeological awareness), your hair needed to command respect.

As long as Pooja sunbathed often, she stayed a soft brown wrinkled complexion, and blended well with the peaceful and kind Ubari people even as a complete foreigner.

When Pooja smiled, her one visible eye twinkled with light, but she didn’t stare others in the eye often, because she had too many secrets she didn’t want stolen again.

Eyes being the windows to the soul and all.

When you were a time traveler, you couldn’t trust anyone.

Pooja had to return monthly to her original birth world, in Los Angeles, in order to cash her social security checks, which arrived like clockwork to her P.O. Box.

She’d long ago lost her old home to foreclosure and most those worldly belongings contained therein; but occasionally she had other matters to attend to at the post office, such as responding to letters from her niece studying in England, sending secret cyphers and equations to physicists, paying bills, or the requisite splurge on a lottery ticket, fingers crossed (because: ‘Live Better’, right?)

And also she loved to converse in English, because it was her first language, and she didn’t want to lose it after learning Ubari.

Usually, when she came and left from The Pooja Mysterium, which she owned and operated on the edge of the Flat Sea, the trip to the portal only took one respective night each way. 

But, as afore mentioned, Pooja had gotten dangerously lost yesterday.

She was forced to spend two blazing hot days alone with her cockies under her emergency “Reflects Heat Back Into Space” silver blanket, which was bungee corded to the metal shopping cart into a makeshift shelter. 

With only her Mister-Spritzer fan humming to cool her down as she sat on a crinkling pad of newspapers, only a new mystery paperback novel to keep her entertained, and only a box of Saltines, fresh carrots with their green tops attached (for her pets to eat), and a warm soda that exploded into her face when she popped the top, but still tasted great, except in her eyes); Pooja had finally spotted the black stone obelisks that were the “Google Maps” of this ancient time.

Thank you phallic symbols of real-world application.

(She’d learned pretty quickly after first discovering the portal ten years ago, that this ancient historical era was also under patriarchy.)

Oh well. 

The thirty-foot black obelisks were a land map, and if you found one rising up out of the desert, and then pointed yourself toward the next distant one, you were on your proper way.

Pooja had passed the scorched white bones of other dead travelers; mostly human, perhaps. (No one came out here much.)

Pooja thought, well; I’m ninety years old. That’s old for living bones.

So bring it.

She was a bit of a badass.

She practiced yoga and kung fu, which she’d synthesized into a lovely new art called Kungfuga.

Basically, you kung fu until you lose your breath, then you yoga until it comes back.

Repeat.

Pooja taught it at the Mysterium in trade for Ubari language lessons. They were a brilliant people with a complex and mature society that had graciously allowed an awkward time traveler to find a home with them no matter how uneducated she was regarding living close to planet Earth.

They all had a high, and natural, and most enviable quality of life without any tech.

The Walmart shopping cart rattled and squeaked and the front left wheel spun clockwise when it turned; but all these things were the decoy when Pooja traversed Los Angeles.

She needed to be unnoticeable.

She and her late husband Henry had been progeny inventors turned international husband-and-wife team, inventing a whole new form of ether-physics; until he’d been murdered by the secret government who also destroyed their laboratory and Pooja lost everything in grief and went into hiding to survive. Long story short, well; Pooja had eventually built a portal to the ancient past right out in the open where it would never be found.

Right in the high arch of the bidirectional cart corral of her favorite Walmart parking lot, hidden inside the high-gauge steel tubes.

Only problem was the return portal had to be built in the middle of a deadly desert; but, oh well.

So far, she’d been ahead of the evil CIA men, for like, what now? Ten years. She ran her high-tech cart in and out of the time traveling portal at Walmart, appearing and disappearing as a homeless woman in L.A., whenever she needed.

No one even blinked at her.

Time traveling was the perfect hiding place from the evil machinations of the deep state. Plus, she loved her humble Mysterium, (which reminded her of Henry) and all the cool stuff she’d brought back from the future. In fact, she’d just stocked up on old records for her vintage record player: Herb Albert And The Tijuana Brass Band, such a classic! 

So she really was a total badass.

But now she realized, while gazing behind her through the pinkly goldening dawn, a human-shaped silhouette had followed her, also bizarrely pushing a shopping cart which glinted in the morning sunlight.

And that had never happened before.

Pooja owned the only Walmart shopping cart in pre-Egyptian times.

Shit, could the CIA have finally found her? Were they armed with guns?

The hairs on Pooja’s neck prickled.

And the cockies hissed. 

* * *

The gentle two-inch high tide of the Flat Sea washed up over Pooja’s flipflops, smelling of salty-sweet caramel and cold citrus. 

It was a pancake wave, spread for hundreds of miles, traveling fast and lasting for weeks before it gently receded again. 

She needed to fast convert the Elite into water-mode.

Pooja bent down and uncovered the solar generator from under one of the tarps, yanking the hand start. It powered up and hummed and rattled like a Harley Davidson motorcycle.

Next, she pulled out the plastic Coke bottles she’d cut into skis and affixed them onto all four shopping cart wheels.

Pooja had welded the child seat area of the shopping cart into a folding-out adult seat that snugged her chest up to the Elite and let her grip it with her knees.

An industrial Home Depot fan with fat stainless steel blades, that Pooja kept hidden in the under-compartment of the cart, snapped perfectly to the back of her adult chair. Snatching the longest bungee cord, she attached it to the front plastic skis, which would allow her to turn. She whipped the towel off her head and made a cushion for her bum and the conversion from land to sea vehicle was complete.

She now had an air boat. 

Pooja turned on the industrial fan.

It was always a slow start. 

A real air boat would have an airplane propeller attached, but Home Depot got her up to about twelve miles per hour, in about that many minutes.

Her Timex digital watch on her wrist confirmed it. (A miracle for keeping time when you’re out of it.)

The bunched up, unruly, left side of her hair blew out behind her because twelve miles per hour literally is like a high speed blow-dryer on your face.

Pooja kept looking worriedly behind her. 

The cockies got scared and raced up her arm and hid in her spandex jog bra for safety.

The high tide must have reached the cart-pushing stranger by now. Hopefully, he would be bogged down and stranded, unable to push forward, or anywhere. Pooja would race back to The Pooja Mysterium and get help.

No, she couldn’t endanger her friends! 

Guns were unknown in this age. 

In fact, having accidentally led the evil CIA to these peaceful people might have been the stupidest, most selfish thing she’d ever done in her life. The governments of the future had terrifying biological diseases, space-laser weapons, endless life-destroying tomfoolery. 

What was the entire history of humanity when you described it like this: The big guns verses those without.

Horrible.

It was all going to happen anyway in the future: But it wasn’t supposed to happen right now. At least that she could see.

Pooja yanked hard on the bungee cord and whipped her vehicle around. There were time traveling paradoxes, rules that must be followed.

She would face this mistake head on. 

In fact, she would ram that time travel cart and destroy both their specialized vehicles.

She would be stuck here forever, but that was okay, she should have died when Henry died. She was only a shell of herself without him.

And one gun wielding CIA foreigner in a world without steel will eventually run out of bullets and find his advantage rusting.

After the wide turn, salty spray misting her lips, Pooja got up to full speed again and aimed at the distant traveler.

She’d never played chicken before. 

He grew bigger and bigger but her eyesight at ninety wasn’t what it used to be at twenty.

It was fair to say blurry.

Pooja squinted into the warm blow-dryer wind, preparing to die. A twelve mile an hour collision might seems slow to the uneducated, but you can get whiplash at five.

She could throw out her right shoulder and never sleep again.

Any variety of slow-mo tragedies awaited.

Shopping cart to shopping cart: She faced him down.

The violent collision threw her head over heels and unconscious into the sea.

* * *

Something kept brushing Pooja’s nose like the stroke of a tiny feather. She wanted to sweep it away but had no arms.

Then she realized the cockies were fingering her with their bug antennae. 

Wake up. Wake up.

Pooja groaned. 

She was laying on her back in the salty, two-inch deep sea, the sun at its radiating zenith, bearing down on her face. She felt like she might be burned lobster red.

Pooja rolled over and the salt flowed sickeningly into her nostrils. She coughed and sputtered hopelessly. Every bone in her body ached with pain.

Finally sat up, dizzy.

The Walmart carts were smashed together. The delicate time machine sensors in the hollow tubes likely would never travel again.

Pooja blinked back tears, but accepted it.

But there, far back away; a flat human body lay on its back at a shadowy angle.

The cockies scurried back into her shirt. Pooja glanced at her Timex. When she moved, the water splashed and sparkled and glinted in the humid sunlight. It took her ten minutes to roll over to her knees, doggy style, and crawl to the CIA man. It was all she had left right now.

She needed to know if he was alive. She needed to pat him down, get the weapons. Dismantle them.

But that face. That beautiful face.

It was Henry. Her beautiful, dead husband Henry.

“Oh God,” Pooja whispered.

Henry’s eye fluttered open.

“I finally found you,” he smiled.

Copyright © 2019 by Valerie Brook. All rights reserved.

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