Having tidied up the rest of the story I thought I would post it now rather than waiting until Friday. Hope you enjoy the ending. Again, all comments, good or bad, greatly appreciated.
* * *
Gordon Wells entered Steven’s room just after first light and drew the curtains. There was no movement from the bed so he pulled back the covers and got the reaction he wanted.
“What time is it?” Steven groaned sleepily.
“Just after seven. Get dressed and meet me in the hallway in fifteen minutes.” Wells had to wait twenty minutes for the boy to appear.
“Did you think about what I said yesterday?” he asked Steven.
“And did I convince you to take a different path?”
“Look, all that stuff is fine for the others but I don’t need it. I don’t need your job, I can look after myself until my brother gets out and he’ll look after me and I’ll be fine. I don’t need no-one’s help.”
“Sorry you see it that way. I was hoping I could convince you that you were doing wrong but now I’ve got to try a different approach. Follow me.”
Wells led him to a metal door and opened the three locks. He pushed the door open to reveal what looked like a sound studio, with a huge panel of knobs and switches underneath a full-length window. Through the glass Steven could see what appeared to be two dentists’ chairs. Wells led Steven through a door to the second chamber and gestured to the furthest chair.
“I’m going to strap you in now. Don’t worry; I’m not going to hurt you. I’ll be back in a moment and I’ll be sitting in the chair next to you.”
Wells returned to the other chamber and busied himself at the control panel for a few moments before returning to his chair and strapping himself in. Nothing happened for a while, then without warning the temperature seemed to rise twenty degrees and the room took on a red hue. A blinding white flash followed and as quickly as the temperature had risen it was back to normal.
“What was that? Did you just brainwash me?”
Wells unstrapped himself and helped Steven out of the chair. “Come with me, we haven’t got long.” He led Steven out of the room, into the hallway and to the front door. He looked through the spy hole before gesturing for Steven to do the same.
“What do you see, Steven?”
“Nothing, just the drive.”
“What’s the weather like?”
“It’s raining again.” He pulled away from the spy hole. “What am I supposed to be looking at? Rain? I’ve seen rain before.”
“Just keep looking and tell me when a vehicle arrives.”
Three long minutes passed until Steven finally spoke. “A minibus is here. Now what?”
“Just keep watching and tell me what you see.”
“Okay, it’s stopped outside. Someone is getting out... he’s opened the side door...someone’s getting out. Hey! He looks like Mark. And that one looks like David. How can that...hang on, that’s....”
“Correct, Steven. It’s you.”
“Later. We have to go, right now.” Wells dragged Steven back to the room and secured the door from the inside. He went through the process again, strapping Steven in and setting the controls before strapping himself in. The heat came again, as did the red hue. The blinding flash signalled the end of the ordeal. This time Wells took his time in releasing Steven, obviously no longer in a rush.
“Come with me, Steven, and I’ll explain what just happened.” Steven followed in silence and took the offered seat across from Wells at the dining table.
“What’s going on? What just happened? You did brainwash me, didn’t you?”
“No Steven. We just went back in time.”
There was silence for what seemed an eternity while Steven Howe contemplated this. Then: “Yeah, right. That’s impossible.”
“Then explain what you just saw. I mean, look out of the window. Bright sunshine, not a drop of rain in sight. The ground is bone dry. How else would you explain that?”
He was answered with silence as Steven tried to make sense of the last few minutes.
“Time travel has been possible for thirteen years now, but it isn’t public knowledge. If everyone could own a time machine there would be chaos. This is the only one in existence, and we move it from place to place each week. It’s actually built onto the back of a truck so we can move it easily. That’s why we use houses like this one, so we can knock a wall out and drive the truck straight in. If you come back in tomorrow you’ll just see a ruined old house where no-one lives and a big hole in the wall.
“So your next question would probably be “why show this to me”, eh? Simple. To prove to you that time travel exists and that we can go back to any day in your life and meet you again.”
Wells opened the folder in front of him and handed Steven a few photographs. “Have a look at some of the kids who have been through this program over the years.”
Steven looked at the first few photographs before setting them back on the table. “So what? Are you going to tell me that they are all in prison now?”
“Sort of.” Wells replied. “Their own, personal prison. Turn the top one over.”
Steven did so and dropped it as if it was on fire. “Christ! What happened to him?”
“He was walking home from school one day when a car pulled up and the driver asked for directions. As he approached the car he was sprayed with acid. It was the day before he was going to commit his first crime. They never did find out who did it.”
Steven leaned over and looked at the image. The boy’s eye sockets were empty and there was no discernable nose. The lips were pulled back over the teeth and only small clumps of hair remained on his head.
Wells leaned over and turned over the next photograph. “This one was burgling his first house when he was savaged by a rottweiler. The homeowners didn’t even like dogs and were at a loss to explain what it was doing in their garden. The real owner was never traced. As you can see, the surgeons couldn’t save his lower jaw. He also lost the use of his right arm.”
Wells turned over the next picture. “That one was a girl, believe it or not. She was abducted one night, doused with petrol and set alight. She ran into the road in flames and was hit by a car, shattering both her legs. Again, they never caught the person who did it. The important thing is that all the people in those photographs, at one time or another, were sitting in that same chair that you’re sitting in, looking at these same photos. Take a look at this one.”
He handed another photo to Steven, who took it gingerly. His jaw dropped as he recognised the face. “It’s me.”
“That’s right, Steven. Turn it over.”
It took Steven a long time to build up the courage to do so, but eventually he found himself staring that the same image. “I don’t understand.”
“It’s quite simple.” Wells explained. “It will stay that way until we hear about your next offence. You see, we aren’t the police; we don’t care how old you are. If you’re old enough to know the law regarding young offenders, you’re old enough to know that what you’re doing is wrong. All the kids in these photographs had the opportunity to change their ways and decided not to. They all paid the price. If you decide to join the program, and stick to it, then your photograph will remain as it is. If you decide that you know best and you think you can outsmart us, then someone will have to go back and pay you a visit. You may commit a crime and nothing happens for a while, but don’t think we’ve forgotten about you. It takes time to research your past and find out the best way to “correct” your behaviour. You’ll wake up one day, see yourself in the mirror and ask “Why me?” And do you know what? Somewhere inside you’ll know the answer.”
“But you said the government ran this. They wouldn’t let you do this to kids.”
“Steven, I said the government supported the project, which is true. We have several people in positions of great authority who are tired of the feral youth blighting this country. In short, they’ve had enough. They’ve done all they can to help kids lead a decent life but at your age you think you know better than everyone else. They have tried countless ways to get you to become valuable members of society but now it has come down to a simple choice: take us up on our offer, give up the life of crime and reap the benefits; or we’ll show you what punishment really means. You might be lucky and end up on one of those cards. Not everyone we revisit survives the ordeal.
Wells pulled out a mobile phone and selected a number from his contact list. After a moment he said “It’s Gordon. Do you have the file on Steven Howe? Good, good. Go back about 3 weeks and tell him that time never stands still. Yes, those exact words.”
As Steven heard the words he found himself outside the corner shop at the beginning of the month. When the man had driven by and spoken those words Steven had thought he was on drugs or something. Now it all made sense.
Wells noted the reaction and considered the job done. “Now, I’m going to wake the others up and have breakfast. Do you want to join us? No? I thought not. Okay, go back to your room and pack your things. The bus will be here in two hours. I have to warn you that speaking to anyone about what happened today will also require us to go back and “visit” you again, okay? Good. Off you go.”
Steven Howe walked blindly into the hallway and up the stairs to his bedroom. Gordon Wells followed him up and unlocked the doors to the other boys’ rooms, waking them up and informing them of breakfast and their departure time.
* * *
At nine thirty all three boys were standing outside the front door, two of them enjoying the fresh morning, Steven Howe seemingly oblivious. Gordon Wells approached the group.
“Mark, any thoughts on what we discussed yesterday?”
“I’d like to take up the offer, if that’s ok. The chance of free go-karting doesn’t come along every day. And thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Wells said, turning to David. “Have you made a decision, David?”
“I’ve had a look at some of the jobs on the website. Who should I contact about them?”
“Just click the link in the job description, fill in your details and quote the reference number shown on the inside cover. They’ll get in touch with me and I’ll give them my personal recommendation. Good luck.”
The minibus arrived and the boys climbed in the back. As it pulled away Wells saw Mark and David deep in conversation, while Steven was just staring blankly ahead.
Elias Sinden came out to join Wells. “How do you think it went? With Steven, I mean?”
Wells frowned. “I honestly don’t know. He’s petrified at the moment, but if he ever figures out that his journey back in time was nothing more than flashing lights and a sun lamp there will always be the seed of doubt to keep him straight. However, I am concerned that he’s too immature for this treatment. I should imagine the images he saw will give him nightmares for a while. Let’s keep and eye on him for the next couple of weeks.”
Sinden nodded, taking notes.
“Is anything missing from their rooms?” Wells asked him.
“Not a thing.”
“Good, good. Now then, we’ve got three more arriving on Monday morning and I want the camera that records their arrival replaced and tested by the end of the day. I noticed a couple of dead pixels in the spy hole just before Steven viewed it. It wasn’t obvious but we can’t have dead pixels in a spy hole, can we....”