Reels of Fortune

It was a glum early evening in mid-September and Stephen Ivey had just one more stop before he could head home, grab a cold beer, and sink into a hot bath.
Stephen slowed as he saw the object lying on the opposite carriageway, registering that the object was a hazard. He considered stopping to move it off the road. Instead he decided to flash a warning at the next on-coming car, but as it approached Stephen’s attention was drawn to the personalised plate of the vehicle, which read R3 ELS, and it was past him before he could flick his high beam. Carrying on to his destination, his thoughts turned instead to his impending meeting with Jim Dodds, the bitter old bastard who was landlord at the Cravenwell Arms.
Stephen’s fears were realised as soon as he met Dodds.
‘I ain’t got no room to waste on any of your noisy games machines boy,’ Dodds said by way of introduction. Evidently he had no room for pleasantries either.
Unperturbed Stephen went ahead and reeled off his full sales pitch, including all the revenue percentages he had memorised like lines of a film script. He emerged thirty minutes older, but without a rental agreement, and crossed the gravel car park to his metallic green Vauxhall Vectra, the pre-requisite transport of choice for the world-weary sales representative. Darkness had descended fully while he had been in the meeting and as the gravel crunched beneath his feet he could make out the sound of an owl hooting in the trees away to his right.

The journey home would take him back the way he had come and up the motorway for a couple of junctions. It was a journey he had done dozens of times so he allowed his mind to wander to the little project he was working on at home. Restoring vintage fruit machines had been his passion since Julie had passed away seven years earlier. Over the years he had drifted away from his friends as they got families or moved to other parts of the country and he found he was spending increasing amounts of time in his workshop tinkering with the inner workings of the intricate machines.
As he thought about getting home and finally starting work on his latest project, a 1970’s fruit machine called No Fishing, he became aware of the traffic coming to a halt ahead of him.
‘Oh, terrific,’ he said aloud, as his right foot went to the brake.
Stephen slowed his car to a halt behind a white van. The road bent sharply ahead, hiding from view whatever was blocking the highway but he could see flashes of red and blue reflecting off the tree line of the other side of the road which meant the police were already in attendance. Several minutes later the traffic began to creep forward. As he rounded the bend the full scale of the accident became apparent, the police had blocked his side of the carriageway with a selection of emergency service vehicles, their assorted lights flashing like a fruit machine paying out the jackpot. A yellow jacketed policeman signalled for Stephen to stop in order to allow traffic from the other direction to filter through. As he waited he surveyed the scene, there were two patrol cars, two ambulances and a fire engine. At first he was unable to make out where the vehicles involved in the accident were, until he noticed that temporary flood lights had been erected on the side of the road pointing into the trees. A tarpaulin had been hung in front of the mangled remains of the car but from his position Stephen could make out the relatively unscathed rear of a blue BMW, as his gaze centred on the number plate of the vehicle his heart began to thump in his chest. It was the car from earlier.
On arriving home Stephen went straight to the fridge, grabbed a beer, and sank down into the sofa as if made from jelly. Placing the can between his legs he fumbled down the side of the cushion for the remote control. There was nothing on the national news about the accident so he gulped his beer whilst he waited for the local news. By the time the report came on he was half way through his second beer which was a good thing given the information the reporter had been able to gleam from the police spokesman. The driver of the car had been Graham McMahon, an international carp fishing champion, who was accompanied by his wife Susan and their two year old twins. Graham and the boys had been pronounced dead at the scene and although the wife was airlifted to hospital she died in the air. When the newsreader moved on to the next story Stephen switched off the television and sat in silence for several minutes before deciding to call his dad.
‘Hello?’ a recognisable female voice answered.
‘Hi mom, sorry to call so late. Could I talk to dad?’
‘Of course dear, he’s in his study. I’ll just fetch him.’
Whilst he waited he tried to decide what it was he actually wanted to say. The receiver shook slightly in his hand.
‘Hi Steve,’ he sounded cheerful and Stephen correctly guessed that he had already opened tonight’s bottle of merlot. ‘What can I do you for?’
Stephen went on to detail the days events to his father, who remained quiet throughout.
‘Well, what do you think?’ Stephen asked.
‘Well, it sounds to me like it was just a tragic accident.’
‘But if I had moved the winch from the road it would have been avoided.’
‘You don’t know that was the cause, they could have been driving too fast or any number of other factors.’
‘So what should I do?’
‘Nothing, just forget about it and move on.’
With that they made their goodnights and his father hung up at his end leaving Stephen standing in the hallway listening to the dialling tone.

After a restless night, the clock told him that it had only just gone five a.m. and rather than lie awake in bed Stephen went down to his workshop. On taking the protective bubble wrap off No Fishing he was surprised to discover the machine appeared to be in perfect condition. Fiddling the small silver key into the lock he opened it up expecting the mechanism to need a little work at least. This time his reaction was disbelief. The usual intricate workings of the fruit machine had been replaced by something altogether more modern. When he plugged the machine in it made a humming sound and glowed such a piercing blue colour he had to close the hatch with one hand covering his eyes. Once his eyes had re-accustomed themselves to the light in the workshop Stephen noticed that the fruits that were usually to be found on the three reels had been replaced by numbers. He started to look around the machine for any labels or markings that might show who had done the restoration job and found the strangest thing, a gold sticker with raised black lettering that said the following:
Property of
Augustus Verne
Scientist and Inventor.
Operate with Care.
Maximum Time Travel = 1 Year.
Beneath this there was taped a small plastic wallet, containing what appeared to be a DVD. Intrigued, and more than a little excited, he untapped the disc and headed in to the lounge to watch it.
The film showed a man of about sixty wearing thick rimmed glasses and seated at a desk in front of a blackboard.
‘Excellent, you are able to watch this film which means you’re not in an alternative reality where Beta-max was a success.’ The old man chuckled to himself before continuing.
‘Ok so you have come into possession of my time machine and are probably eager to find out if it works.’ The old man paused as if waiting for an answer, ‘well I can assure you that it does, although its abilities are limited.’
The old man went on to detail how the machine worked before moving onto some technical stuff that Stephen couldn’t follow. On a whim he positioned the numbers to the previous days date as there were only three numbers he could put only the day and month. With the reels in place he pressed down the start button and everything went a blinding white, when the light dimmed he found himself asleep in his bed, marvelling at the dream he had been having he got out of bed and went into the lounge to see if there was any update of the accident on the morning news. However, when he turned on the breakfast report it had nothing on the incident and seemed to be running the previous days stories. Convinced this had to be an error he pressed the button to bring up Teletext, which confirmed that amazingly the machine had worked. He knew what had to be done.
The working day went much as he remembered it; he didn’t want to risk doing anything different for fear of losing the opportunity to clear away the debris from the road. As the evening approached he became more and more apprehensive until he was finally driving down the road towards the spot where the accident had occurred the previous time he had lived this day. Stephen slowed the car to a stop when he reached the point in the road where the object lay in the on-coming lane, he activated his hazard warning lights, climbed out, and ventured in the direction of the object. It turned out to be the hook end of a tow truck winch and he smiled to himself as he pitched it far into the trees. As he got back alongside his car the BMW approached him, slowing as the driver registered the stationary Vectra and Stephen found himself giving a little wave as he eased open the door of his car and made his way on to his appointment.

As he entered the pub this time he got the sense that something was different and this was confirmed as a woman came towards him.
“You must be Mr Ivey, I’m afraid my husband has had to go pick our daughter up from university. But your welcome to go though your proposals with me” she said motioning to a couple of sofas positioned in front of the open log fire.
Twenty five minutes later he emerged clutching a signed contract not just for the lease of a gaming machine but also a quiz machine. Thinking of the added commission he would receive he practically skipped to his car, the noise causing an owl to fly from a nearby tree. Pulling onto the drive of his house two things struck him, the lights were on and there was another car on the driveway. On opening his front door the pleasant aroma of a roast dinner confronted him and he headed for the kitchen. Standing there was Julie carefully carving a joint of beef, seeing him she put down the carving knife and came around the kitchen counter.
“Are you ok darling? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” She said bringing her hands to rest on the bulge beneath her maternity dress.
“No, it’s just I’d forgotten how beautiful you are”
“Well that doesn’t say much for your memory does it? It’s only been eight hours since you left me in bed this morning,” she said turning back to the joint of meat.
Stephen went to the sink to wash his hands and was struck by a sudden thought. He dried his hands and entered his workshop, only it was no longer a workshop it was simply a garage again, cluttered with garden equipment and their bicycles, there in the corner wrapped carefully in bubble wrap was a mint condition 1970’s gambling machine with numbers instead of fruits.