The last time Artie had been to Spain, there was a lot of explaining to do. Sadly, since he didn’t speak a blessed word of Spanish, the explanations went mainly unnoticed — but not before he was thrown in the local jail to await translation. It was unclear if he had meant to offend the mayor’s wife, or just ask for directions to the closest restaurant, but the authorities were going to get to the bottom of it if it meant that poor Artie would have to cool his heels behind the cold bars of justice for a week or two. It’s not that it was hard to find someone who spoke English in the tiny village where he’d fallen upon such unfortunate times, but it was hard to find someone who would do so for the paltry US $3.48 that was left in his socks after the gendarmerie had rolled him for the wallet that used to be in his back pocket. He was too poor for anyone to volunteer a translation that might further disturb the authorities (and land them in the spot where he found himself), and too rich for most people in this dusty backwater to feel very sorry for him.
Artie had to agree to himself (the only other person who was really listening) that this was not the best vacation, ever. He probably should have retraced his steps and tried another destination when it was clear that the elevator had dropped him off in 1927 instead of 1972. He didn’t have the best relationship with machines in the first place, but there wasn’t much he could do since the Operator had passed away two months ago after 93 years of dedicated service. He had read the weighty manual cover to cover, but thousands of pages of smudged diagrams and arcane equations had slid right off of any attempted learning curve like a truckload of anvils flying over the mountain path to fabled Olympus. Honestly, he didn’t know what the hell he was doing. Punching in seemingly random numbers and pulling levers on the apparatus often surprised him by responding with any sort of accuracy; it happened just often enough to give him the confidence he needed to truly fail. This Spain situation, he grimly admitted to himself, might be his most radical failure so far.
While trying to count the days he’d been pinching fleas, waving away rallying vermin, and staring down other petty criminals who came and went from the grimy holding cell, Artie’s first visitor arrived. Were it not for the obviously false moustache, the bad hairpiece, and anachronistic sunglasses that the man wore, he might be staring at his own reflection. His better dressed, more recently bathed reflection.
“What took you so long… Artie?” Artie said to Artie.
This wasn’t the first time his future self had been recruited to unjam him from some sticky situation or other. On one hand, it was nice to know that he could count on himself when all seemed lost. On the other hand, it didn’t bode well for his hopes of someday making it back to his own time and place — at least not any time soon. His oldest self he’d so far encountered was, he guessed, probably about forty years older than he was now. This one was a little closer to his current age, though the silly getup made it difficult to discern exactly how much closer.
“Sorry, Artie,” said Artie. “You know how it goes. Some of the gears were worn. I had to replace a bunch of crap in that old machine and cross my fingers really hard before I could even get close to here. You’re lucky it’s only been eight days. I had a few bad turns before…”
He paused, the two Arties shared a look, and nodded in unison. The older Artie banged his fist on the thick metal door behind him, and the lazy young jailer entered, rubbing sleep from his eyes. They exchanged words that the younger Artie couldn’t understand; the cell door was opened, and Artie saw sunlight for the first time in… what he was told had only been eight days, but could have easily been eight times that.
“We know Spanish now? That’s surprising!”
“No it isn’t. Not even a little bit. You’ll see.”
Though the walk back to the hotel was shared, the two men bid each other a friendly farewell at the front door. The casual observer would notice that each entered the same elevator about five minutes apart, but one went up, and the other, down. Which was odd, because the casual observer also knew that this was the hotel’s bottom floor.