Shuddersome Shorts

Tales of Eerie Terror

#7


Does Anyone Remember Dash Summers, Time-Tripper?

by D.K. Latta
About the author

This story was originally published in 1997 in the magazine Horizons Science Fiction (vol. 17, no. 1)

Remember the comics you read as a kid? Maybe it would be better
if you didn't...

I'm writing this as quickly as I can, hoping to get it all down in black and white while I can. If there are mistakes, grammatical errors, you'll have to forgive them. I don't have time to be particular.

I edit Bizarre Chronicles Fiction Magazine. For the last seven years we've been published out of the third floor of a Dundas St. office building in downtown Toronto. We print science fiction stories, related articles, reviews and a comic strip or two.

I'm not sure of the exact day he came to our offices. It was a week or so after the Canada Day week-end -- I remember that much because the upside down maple leaf flag was still hanging in the reception area, half covering the laminated blow-ups of our various anniversary issue covers. The upended flag was our off-kilter tribute to nationalism, a harkening back to our counter-culture days when we thought we were going to change the world. But that's not really relevant to what I'm trying to relate. Or maybe it is. I don't know anymore.

The name he gave to Julie, the receptionist, was Elgin Feldman. He was built like an inukshuk and had silvering hair under a thoroughly broken-in fedora and a face like an old duffle-bag, thick and lived-in. He wore a trenchcoat and probably sold aluminum siding for a living. Not quite the archetypal picture one would immediately conjure up of our general readership, but I was open-minded when Julie ushered him into my office. She gave me a secret wink, thinking he might be a potential advertiser, then shut the door on her way out.

I motioned for him to be seated. "What can I do you for, Mr., uh, Feldman was it?"

He sat, our latest issue clutched in his meaty hands. He ignored my question as he leafed through it, squinting intently at the pages as they flipped by.

I cringed momentarily, suddenly envisioning him as an agent of a special interest group, here to rake us over the coals for some perceived slight hidden in our prose.

Seeming satisfied with his quick perusal, he let the magazine drop in his lap. He leaned back in the chair and stared at me, wide leathery lips working over his teeth.

"You like comic books?" he asked, his voice a phlegmatic baritone.

"Sure." I shrugged, not having anticipated that particular question.

"I used to read 'em all the time when I was a kid. They've changed. I've seen the stuff my niece's kid reads." He shook his head, grinning ruefully in a lopsided way. "Not like what I grew up on. Captain Marvel, Flash Gordon."

"Kids still know about those guys. Superheroes don't die, the rights just lapse until somebody comes along and picks them up again."

"Maybe." He tossed his hat on the floor like he meant to stay awhile. "Do you know what the defining moment of history was for a kid born in the '30s? Not '39, not when we went to war. What does a kid know about war, right? No, it was a year later and the War Exchange Conservation Act -- quite a mouthful, eh? Not that we knew about that. All we knew was that 'non-essential' items weren't being imported anymore. No more comic books. No more Captain Marvel. Boy, were we pissed." He chuckled throatily. "Pretty soon, though, Canadian comics started up. Nelvana of the Northern Lights, Whiz Wallace and the Invisible Planet, the Penguin. Some were in colour; most were cheap black and white. We didn't care, though, we ate it up. A lot of people don't think about those characters today," he finished quietly.

"Canada Post did some stamps a while ago-" I said, glancing at my watch, wondering if Julie would think to buzz me for an 'important meeting' that I just had to rush away to.

"True. And old farts like me remember. I still meet guys who recall Thunderfist and all the others." He stopped and his grey eyes suddenly grew hard. "All except one. Tell me, kid, do you remember Dash Summers?"

I stared. "Who?"

"Dash Summers, Time-Tripper from the year 2201. He bounced around through his history, but what to his 1940s audience was the future. He had a sonic blaster and this nifty car that-"

"Uh -- Elgin was it? -- I hate to be rude, but I have a meeting in a few-"

"Bear with me," he said quickly. "Please. Hear me out."

And for the first time I had a hint of something dark concealed behind the casual nostalgia. I hesitated, then put my palms flat on my desk. "O.K.," I said. "But get to the point."

He nodded, satisfied. "Dash came from a time when the world had been conquered by these shadowy things after we'd kind of let it fall apart from war and intolerance. They were vampire beings, feeding on people they kept like cattle. Dash escaped in a time machine and bounced around through the years. It wasn't the best written strip maybe, but it was the most fun because of the fanciful times Dash kept landing in. Like that war he got caught up in in South-East Asia. Pure fantasy. I mean, what kid could even find Vietnam on a map in 1941?" He leaned forward, the chair creaking softly beneath him. "Then there was that nifty issue where Germany was divided after the war with a wall -- a wall! -- right down the middle of Berlin. Wild stuff, eh?" He coughed and scratched his chin. "'Course, the war ended and the wall went up and suddenly it didn't seem so wild. And that Senator in the U.S. started going after communists, like Dash said he would. And lots of other things I remembered reading about as a kid."

I frowned, not sure how to take what he was saying.

"After the war, when the American comics started crossing the border again, Dash was cancelled like all the other Canadian mags. People started forgetting about him, like they did Whiz and the Brain. But then they started forgetting about him more than the others, till it got so you couldn't find a living soul who recalled reading Dash Summers, Time-Tripper. Except me. I began to wonder if maybe I'd just dreamed it. Maybe I was crazy to think I had read about events with a flashlight under my sheets decades before they happened." He glanced over his shoulder, at the door, then back at me. "Then I met this guy named Harry. Christ, old as Methuselah he was, who used to run a corner store back then. He remembered. Not well, but some. He remembered how Dash Summers had mapped out most of the tragedies of the 20th century. He had a piece of shrapnel in his head that he got in '17 -- old Harry, not Dash. Now when I was twelve, a grenade fell out of the back of a C.F. truck carrying armaments." Elgin tapped his own skull with a finger. "It lodged a chunk of steel just over my ear that the docs decided it'd be safer not to touch. I don't know if that's the connection, if that's why we're immune. Maybe the metal helps deflect electro-magnetic emanations or something."

"Immune?" I demanded. "From what? Mr. Feldman, forgive me for say-"

"Immune from whatever made everyone else forget," he said, trampling over my objections. "Haven't you been listening? A comic book that predicted the future? Then is erased from everyone's memory? That ain't normal, kid. And how about this: the strip was done by a fellow named A.A. Chewzcolopiha -- Harry remembered too. You can look in any book you want, you can phone up any embassy, and you won't find anywhere on earth where that's a real name -- I know, I've done it. At least, it's not a real name now. So I got to thinking, what if I lived in the year 2201 and the human race had been enslaved by nightmare monstrosities because we'd torn ourselves apart with wars and poverty and pollution? What if I had a time machine, somehow, someway? What would I do? I'd go back in time and try to change history -- hell, anyone would. But if I just up and warned people, they'd throw me in a looney-bin. So I'd warn 'em subtly...through fiction. But I wouldn't want my enemies to track me down, so I'd pick something that wouldn't necessarily make it into the history books two hundred and fifty years from now. Comic books." He shifted in his chair and tugged on the lapels of his coat nervously. "But he made a mistake. When the war was over and the American comics came back, he was out of a job. Worse, his enemies tracked him down and did something to make everyone forget; almost everyone. Hell, for all I know, they were the ones who shut down the Canadian comic book industry in the first place. Maybe they worked behind the scenes to silence him. But he escaped into the time stream. Escaped to try again."

"How would you know that?" I asked, half fascinated, half worried he was going to get violent.

"Back in the '40s, some of the Canadian artists drew their characters to look like themselves, as kind of an in-joke. So Dash might have looked like Chewzcolophia." Rising, Elgin fumbled open his copy of Bizarre Chronicles and slapped it on the desk in front of my face. It was opened to the comic we'd begun running in that issue: 'Alex Tuther' by Jay Winters, a satirical strip about a time travelling insurance salesman who shows up at future disasters. Elgin stared mutely at the page, brushing the ink lines gently, as though something fragile, like butterfly wings; tracing with his fingers the regular boy-next-door features of the protagonist, the blonde hair drawn in an anachronistic crewcut. Slowly he looked up at me, eyes clouded with memories. "Fifty years and then this face leaps out at me from nowhere. This," he said firmly, "is Dash Summers, and not a day older. Don't you see? Chewzcolophia has resurfaced, only calling himself Jay Winters now."

My disbelief must have shown in my face, because Elgin said, "Have you ever met this Jay Winters, kid? Face to face?"

I hesitated. "Once."

"And?"

"And," I began grudgingly, "I suppose, maybe, the character looks just a little like him."

"You've got to put me in touch with him," he said quietly.

I eased back in my chair, Elgin's big frame intimidating. "We'll be happy to forward any mail-"

"No!" he growled, then stopped and took a deep breath. "There's no reason for him to trust me, but I have to know for sure that I'm not crazy."

"All I can do," I said, "is forward any mail. I can't give out his address, that's not how it works."

He stared at me, the anger draining from his thick features, replaced by a sagging resignation. "And you have that meeting to go to," he said flatly.

"I do? Oh, right. I do." Hastily I rose and ushered him to the door. "Leave a message with our receptionist and I'll be sure Mr. Winters gets it. Julie," I called as we stepped out of my office, "help Mr. Feldman will you?" I patted his arm, then I continued on down the hall alone, ducking into the bathroom when he wasn't looking.

I waited five minutes, counting off the seconds in my head, just to be sure he would have left. Then I went back. Julie was at her desk.

"Is he gone?" I whispered, looking about cautiously.

"Yeah. Once he got his hat."

"Hat?"

"He said he left it in your office."

I remembered the hat. I remembered him deliberately dropping it beside his chair. I rushed back into my office to find the bottom drawer of my filing cabinet open, papers jutting from it like overgrown weeds. It was the drawer marked W-Z. And since I hadn't gotten around to putting Winter's phone number on disk yet as a back-up, there was no way I could prepare him for the excitable Mr. Feldman's visit.

That was morning. By mid-afternoon I was going over lay-outs with one of the artists when Julie rapped on the glass. "Mr. Feldman's on line one." She grinned and rolled her eyes.

"Sonofabitch," I muttered, grabbing the receiver. "Elgin, you thief, I ought to-"

"Listen!" rasped the voice, startling me, the deep tones cracking up like a boy just entering puberty. A boy, or a grown man shaken to his bones. "Winters is gone. The landlord says no one's lived there for months. He doesn't remember Winters at all. At all! I'm scared. Oh God I'm scared. And now I think I'm being followed. I think they must know, the creatures he drew in the Dash Summers strip fifty years ago. I think they finally got him and now they're after me as well, because I know. You've got to help me."

"Elgin," I began carefully, unsure how to handle this, "listen to me-"

"It's not safe where I am," he said breathlessly, ignoring me. "But I'll call you in a day or two and we can plan something, warn people. The three of us who know. You, me and old Harry." He hung up without another word.

* * *

That was days ago and he hasn't called back. But there's more to it. Julie doesn't remember the 'Alex Tuther' strip, no one here does. And she doesn't remember Elgin Feldman coming to see me.

That's not the worst of it.

The worst is, I don't remember Jay Winters either. I recall the name, what Elgin and I talked about, but I don't actually remember publishing his strip. In my desk drawer is a note in my handwriting listing wars and assassinations. I don't remember writing it, but I must have copied it down from the 'Alex Tuther' stuff before...before I forgot. I'll keep it with me, safe, until I know what to do with it.

I can barely remember Elgin Feinman -- sorry, Feldman. Even as I write I have to refer to the first pages of this manuscript just to keep the names straight. I can feel it slipping away, the Dash Whatever strip and whatever his name was who did it and Elgin coming to see me.

Part of me worries that they might be after me too, since I talked to him. But, no, I think I'm safe. I have to find that old guy, Harry. He's the only one left now who truly knows -- knows what, I'm not quite sure, but it must be something. And yet there must be a thousand Larrys in Toronto alone.

If you're out there Barry, contact me, please. I can be reached care of Bizarre Chronicles. It's a high-profile, award winning magazine that's sold throughout North America. If you can't find a current copy on the stands, just ask. After all, everyone remembers Bizarre Chronicles.

Don't they?

END


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Does Anyone Remember Dash Summers, Time Tripper? is copyright 1997, by D.K. Latta. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)