This is a short story from a while back that I’m still unhappy with. I think the biggest problem is that the characters really fall flat. I’m posting it in its rawest form, not to show my work, but to get some ADVICE. What could I have done, short of tripling the length of the piece, to better develop the characters?
“I love Seamus, I really do. It’s just,” Sarah’s voice cracked as she strained to find the words, “Oh Henry, I don’t know what to do anymore.”
The girl stared at the floor and her auburn hair fell over her face. Images of meeting Seamus on her first day of school, studying together for exams, and their long talks of physics, life, and love flashed through her mind. Henry reached an aged hand into his pocket and produced a clean handkerchief.
“Thank you,” she sniffled regaining her composure, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-
“Its fine dear,” replied Henry’s gentle voice. “You’ve been saying for quite some time that he has been too busy with his work.”
“You’re so sweet,” she replied placing her hand on his. “You’ve been like a father to me since I started school here, and I… I know you’re right. It’s just that in the last week it’s been so much worse, he’s stopped eating, he barely sleeps, he’s spends all of his time in this stupid lab. I’m really worried about him.”
As she spoke Sarah motioned to the laboratory in which they sat and the many technical devices that lay strewn about it. The tears began to well again and she looked down at the weathered hand in hers as she searched for a distraction.
“How did you get that?” she asked noticing an old cross shaped scar in the thin leathery skin.
“What, this?” replied Henry. “Oh, I got that eons ago. I’ve nearly forgotten how it happened.”
Sarah sighed. “I don’t mean to keep you from your work.”
“I suppose these floors won’t clean themselves,” with a smile Henry reached for his cleaning bucket and made his way towards the hall. Though he was just a janitor, Henry was well known as a listening ear to many students in the building.
“I’ve been talking to Seamus too, but he doesn’t listen much to me,” he said pausing at the door, “I’ve been around long enough to know when something is going on. I’ve heard strange sounds and voices coming from this lab. The instruments here are much more advanced than any I’ve seen a student work on. I fear that Seamus has gotten involved in something dangerous. Something tells me that your the only one that can help him. Please try.”
It was an odd comment for the University janitor. Sarah sat perplexed with her emotions and waited. Moments later the shadow of Henry leaving was replaced by that of Seamus entering the lab carrying yet another strange device.
“Sarah, what are you doing here?” Seamus was more curt than usual and looked harried.
“Seamus, I came-“
“You cann’t be here. You need to leave now!” His voice was both stern and anxious as he glared through bloodshot eyes.
“No Seamus, we need to talk,” Sarah stood and approached with determination. “What is going on with you? I haven’t seen you in a week! You don’t sleep, you don’t eat. I asked Dr. Morgan but he is convinced you are working on a micro-fab project. But I don’t even recognize the devices you are working on here. What are you doing?”
Her voice shook as her emotions surged. The flood of tears was only a moment away, but Seamus didn’t seem to notice.
“Too late,” Seamus muttered to himself as he looked at his watch. He turned to the door and quickly bolted it shut.
A sudden gust of wind blew through the sealed room, tossing papers and pushing the carts about in all directions. Sarah heard something start to hiss. The sound expanded into a deafening roar as it echoed through the room. She covered her ears and clenched her eyes when it culminated in a blinding light.
“What is she doing here!” boomed a familiar voice out of the silence that followed.
“She was here when I got here, I didn’t have time,” apologized Seamus, his voice faltering with intimidation. “It’s Sarah.”
Sarah looked up. Standing in the room now was a middle aged man, but not one like she had ever seen before. Energy seemed to radiate from him. In various places pulsating devices were embedded into his skin. Below silvered hair a glowing light shone through his eyes.
“Of course I know who it is,” replied the man sternly. “No matter, this is the hour. We have a very short window and we cannot afford to be delayed.”
Those eyes! Sarah gasped. The stranger had the very same eyes that she had gazed into on countless nights since she had started dating Seamus.
“Impossible,” Sarah stuttered as she rose to her feet.
Seamus gave Sarah a helpless shrug as he followed the beckoning of his older self. The pair began to work together assembling devices around the large platform in the center of the room. They discussed their work in hushed voices, indifferent to Sarah’s presence.
“Seamus, what is this? What is going on?” She demanded trying not to screech her exasperation.
“Sarah, I know it’s a lot to take in, but thirty years from now I will discover time travel.” Seamus paused to explain despite cold looks from his future self.
“But what does that have to do with now?” It was a lot to accept but not nearly as unsettling as the menacing grimace of the uncanny man beside Seamus.
“Simple girl,” replied the more mature Seamus in a voice like ice. He motioned to his junior self to continue working and returned his own attention to the devices that he was assembling as he continued to speak, “I haven’t spent the past century arranging these events to be delayed by foolish prattle. So let me explain briefly while we continue.”
“To be most accurate, your Seamus WOULD have discovered time travel thirty years from now. From there he would go on to change both history and the future. Over thousands of leaps through time he would delay the inevitable human Armageddon until technology advanced far enough for him to achieve immortality,” the enhanced Seamus gesture towards himself with a sweeping hand, “With an immortal body I have pushed the time-space continuum to its limit and discovered a way to escape its limitation altogether! But I am to old already, I need a younger self to restart the process, and so your Seamus will renew my journey and take us into the transcendence of time, into eternity!”
“But Seamus, what about your life here? What about us?” She pleaded. Looking at his back as he worked she searched for any sign of the love he had once professed for her. She found only a fleeting glance as Seamus continued assembling the device. A control panel was now being attached to the instruments assembled around the platform.
“You heard him Sarah, immortality, transcendence! How can I not follow my destiny? I will come back for you I… I promise. But I have to do this first,” he spoke without looking at her. Was he afraid to look? Afraid that if he saw her face his nerve would unravel? She hoped that it would.
From the corner of her eye Sarah thought she saw the future Seamus smirk.
“Seamus, please. This doesn’t seem right!”
At that moment sparks leapt out from the wall where Seamus had been connecting heavy cables that would power the nearly assembled device. Cursing, Seamus clutched his hand and stared at the smoldering burn.
“Don’t worry, Seamus,” called the older man with a smiled from across the room. He held up a matching scar on his own hand. “It will heal.”
Seamus tore a piece from his shirt and wrapped his injured hand. Still grimacing with the pain he surveyed the equipment one more time before stepping onto the platform.
“I’m sorry Sarah, I’ll come back for you I promise.”
“Seamus if you love me please STOP! I don’t trust him!” she cried out one last time.
Seamus’s future self stepped to the control panel. With the touch of a few buttons the machine began to power up. Sarah could feel the surge of energy as the hairs on her forearms and neck stood on end. Walls of glowing energy surrounded Seamus. Through them Sarah saw him looking at her and smile as he mouthed the words, ‘I love you’.
Sarah’s hands covered her mouth as the tears overwhelmed her. A sickening blend of grief and rage filled her. Her head shook and the whisper escaped against her volition.
“No, you don’t.”
The next few moments were a blur. Henry reappeared striding toward the machine with a vigor Sarah had never seen. As he reached for the control panel the future Seamus bellowed and swung at the elderly man, but his arm passed through its target like a vapor. Next there was an explosion followed by two sets of wrenching screams.
Then it was over. The room was quiet and dark except for bits of the broken machine that still sparked at random. The acrid smell of smoke and burning flesh filled the room. Sarah found herself alone with Henry who stood silent and still at the control panel. On the platform was a pile of darkened ash.
The elderly janitor turned. She could see that tears were streaming from his eyes as much as hers.
“I tried to stop them,” he whispered almost to himself as he wiped his cheek with his scarred hand, “a million lifetimes I tried. You cannot imagine what they did to humanity, what I did, all for such vain ambition. You must understand you were my last hope and he still refused; there was no other way.”
Sarah couldn’t move. Her disobedient muscles merely quivered in trauma that engulfed her. Henry made to leave, but paused as he reached Sarah’s side. Staring at the ground he spoke again through a horse voice
“I’m sorry to have done this to you. I thought that my youthful love for you might change my future. I’m sorry Sarah, he didn’t know love.”
“But your scar!” Sarah finally found her voice. She pointed toward Henry’s hand, clinging to any hope that her beloved Seamus was not gone, “How can he be dead if you are still here?”
Henry walked toward the door and unlocked it.
“My dear Sarah,” The man replied and looked up at her. His face gleamed softly with an unnatural light. Through his tears she could see a love that her Seamus had never been able to give her, “some things take an eternity to understand.”