Raymond and Blanche Hodges strolled along the gravel parking lot of the old drive-in theater that on weekends hosted the hundreds of dealers of the Puritan Falls Flea Market. While Blanche stopped at a table offering locally grown produce, Raymond browsed through the items at the neighboring stall: an assortment of electronic gadgets including smoke detectors, phone answering machines, videocassette rewinders and remote control units. Since the TV remote in their living room was always being misplaced, Raymond thought he'd pick up a spare if the price was right.
The toothless old man selling the gadgets, who could spot a potential customer a mile away, came over to Raymond and asked, "Can I help you with something?"
"I was just looking at your selection of remote controls."
"This is the best one I have. It's the only remote you'll ever need," the old man assured him.
"What is it, one of those universal remotes that work the TV, DVD player and the cable box?"
"It'll do all that and more. Plus, it's very easy to use. There are only a few buttons, and you don't have to program anything. It's so easy, even my wife can figure it out," the old man laughed, displaying his toothless gums.
"Actually, I didn't want anything too expensive. I was just looking for a backup. Our remote tends to grow legs and walk away."
"Well, this little baby is only ten dollars. And I'm here every weekend. If you're not happy with it, bring it back next week, and I'll give you your ten bucks back."
Raymond could not pass up such a deal, so he paid the man ten dollars and walked away with a new universal remote.
Later that day, after Blanche finished drying the dishes, she turned to Raymond and asked, "I have to run down to Shop 'N Save for a few things. Want to come along?"
"No, I've had enough shopping for one day. I think I'll relax and watch the ball game."
When Raymond turned the television on, "The Star Spangled Banner" was coming to an end. Good, he thought, I didn't miss the start of the game.
"I'll be back in a little while then," Blanche called as she went out the door.
Raymond remembered the new remote he'd bought. Maybe he'd better try it out and see if it worked. He took it out of its plain gray cardboard box and removed it from the bubble-pack wrapper.
"What the hell?" he said when saw the unit. "It must be a toy."
There were only three buttons on it: one red circular button in the middle and a green button on each side of it, designated with either a right pointing or left pointing arrow. What do these do? he wondered. Go up and down the channels? Raise and lower the volume?
Since there were no instructions, Raymond just pointed the remote, pressed the button with the right pointing arrow and waited to see what happened. The ballplayers moved across the TV screen at warp speed until he pressed the red button in the center. The buttons with the arrows must be for fast-forwarding and rewinding, he assumed. It took a few minutes for it to dawn on him that he wasn't watching a videotape, that he was watching a live televised baseball game. How could he possibly fast-forward a live broadcast? When he pressed the button again, the players once more flew around the bases.
After a few minutes Blanche walked in the door, carrying several shopping bags.
"I thought you were going to Shop 'N Save," Raymond said. "How did you get back here so quickly?"
"I've been gone over an hour, Ray. Don't tell me you fell asleep with the TV on again."
Raymond looked at the game on the screen. It was the sixth inning already. He pressed the button on the remote again. The numbers on the digital clock of the VCR accelerated like the dials on a gas pump.
"Blanche," he cried, "come here and look at this."
He pressed the button again. Blanche seemed to run into the room with the speed of Jesse Owens being chased by the Ku Klux Klan.
"See what?" Blanche asked after her husband pressed the red button.
Raymond realized that Blanche hadn't been aware of the acceleration of time, but he was aware of it because he was the one holding the remote.
"Nothing. It was just something I wanted to show you on television, but you missed it."
Raymond then tried pressing the button when the TV was turned off. This time Blanche raced through the room and up the stairs only to come down a few seconds later, showered and dressed for bed.
"This is no television remote," he thought wondrously. "It's a miniature time machine."
* * *
Raymond felt like a character out of a Jules Verne novel when he took the remote to the office with him the next day. At 9:10 a.m., when he finished his morning coffee, he took the remote out of his briefcase and pressed the fast-forward button. In just a few minutes it was lunchtime. But Raymond, who had eaten his breakfast less than an hour earlier, was not hungry, so he held the button down and watched his fellow employees scurrying around the office at an unbelievable pace until the clock on the wall read 5:00. Then Raymond pressed the red button, picked up his briefcase and suit jacket and left for the day.
That night after Blanche had gone up to bed, Raymond discovered one of the disadvantages of traveling through time. To the world around him, it was after 11:00 p.m. Most people were either preparing for bed or were already asleep. Raymond was wide-awake and suffering from a condition very similar to jetlag. Like most insomniacs, he turned on the television. Since there was nothing on but infomercials and soft-core adult movies, he tried reading instead, hoping it would make him sleepy. Finally, around 4:30 he dozed off. Then at 6:00, Blanche woke him up. After only an hour and a half of sleep, he could barely keep his eyes open as he showered, ate breakfast and got dressed for work.
At 9:10 he again took the remote out of his briefcase. He pressed the button and watched his fellow employees complete their eight-hour workday in a matter of minutes. When he got home, he kissed Blanche on the cheek and headed upstairs to the bedroom where he took out the remote and fast-forwarded to 10:30. Then he curled up in bed and went to sleep.
Raymond woke the next morning feeling fully refreshed. He'd come to the conclusion that he would have to be more careful with his time traveling. Fast-forwarding through his eight-hour workday upset his internal clock, but if he went forward in twenty-four-hour increments, his sleeping and eating cycles shouldn't be thrown off.
When he took the remote out of his briefcase after his morning coffee, he said to himself, "Let's see. Today is Wednesday. If I go ahead forty-eight hours, that will bring me to Friday. I can work my normal eight hours, get my paycheck and start my weekend without any ill effects."
He held down the button on the remote, humming the old Rolling Stones' song "Time is on My Side." The employees around him worked in the wink of an eye. Around 5:00 they started leaving for the evening, and Raymond soon found himself alone in a dark office. Time passed faster and faster as he held down the button. In minutes, Thursday came and went, and it was Friday morning. When Raymond pressed the red stop button and time returned to normal, he noticed a large pile of papers had accumulated in his in-box. He worked hard all morning to clean up most of the backlog, but after lunch his boss came into his office and closed the door.
"Ray, I'd like to have a word with you. Is there something bothering you? Are you having any trouble at home?"
"No, Mr. Olsen. Everything's fine. Why do you ask?"
"Every time I walked past your office this week I've seen you just sitting here still as a statue. You haven't been getting any work done. There are memos you haven't answered, phone calls you haven't returned and deadlines you haven't met."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Olsen," he apologized guiltily. "It won't happen again. You have my word on that."
"It had better not, Ray. I'll be keeping my eye on you from now on," Mr. Olsen warned and left the room.
Realizing how lucky he was not to have been fired, Raymond decided to take the remainder of his pile of work home with him and finish it over the weekend. He also realized what a fool he had been to think he could just remain a spectator while the rest of the world moved on. He certainly wouldn't try rushing through his workday again.
When Raymond got home, he was in for an unpleasant surprise. He had expected to find Blanche in the kitchen setting the table or putting the finishing touches on the evening meal., but Blanche was not there, nor was there any sign of dinner. "Blanche!" he called out. "Where are you?"
His wife came down the stairs wearing a bathrobe. Her hair had not been brushed, and her eyes were red and swollen from crying. "So you finally decided to come home?" she sobbed.
"Of course, why wouldn't I?" he asked innocently.
"When you didn't come home Wednesday night, I thought you might have had an accident or something. I called everyone including the hospital and the police. No one had a clue where you were. The next day I called your office, and they told me you were in but that you weren't answering your phone. I left several messages, yet you never even returned my calls. And then you pulled the same stunt last night. If there's someone else, Ray, just tell me. Don't give me this silent treatment I've gotten the last three days. I deserve better than that."
"Oh, Blanche, there's no one else. I swear it. The craziest thing has happened. Remember that remote control I bought at the flea market? It must be magic or something. I can make time speed up. I went into my office on Wednesday morning, pressed the button and then it was Friday."
It didn't surprise Raymond when Blanche didn't believe him. "I know it sounds absurd, but here it is," he said getting the remote out of his briefcase. "You try it. Just push the button on the right and time will speed up."
"Stop it, Ray! I don't know what game you're playing, but don't treat me like an idiot."
"It's true, Blanche. Just try it, please." He put the remote in her hand and watched her press the button. Nothing happened. Furious, she gave it back to him and went upstairs.
"But, Blanche, you've got to believe me," he pleaded. "I used this device to travel ahead in time. I just pushed the button like this," he said pointing the remote toward the clock.
Again nothing happened. He then tried pushing the other button. The clock stopped. No, wait. It was moving, but at a pace so slow it was almost undetectable. Not wanting to slow the passage of time, he pushed the stop button. It must have jammed because it wouldn't stop the clock from moving at a snail's crawl.
The batteries! Of course, all he had to do was replace the batteries. But when he turned the unit over, he couldn't find a battery compartment. Maybe if he broke the remote, then time would return to its normal pace. He headed toward the kitchen for a hammer, but he stopped short when he saw his reflection in the hall mirror.
His hair was turning gray before his eyes, and his beard was growing as though filmed in time-lapse photography. The remote had not only slowed time down, but it had also accelerated his body processes. He was aging at an alarming rate. Now his hair, which had turned from brown to gray to white, was receding and thinning rapidly. His skin wrinkled as he stared at the mirror, and liver spots began to appear. Pain shot through his joints, and he began to hunch over with age. He turned toward the living room to call out to Blanche and then fell to the floor.
"Raymond? Are you all right? What was that noise?" Blanche cried as she came down the stairs. "Raymond, answer me."
In the hallway lay the corpse of a man well into his nineties or perhaps even older. The horrified wife could only identify the body as that of her husband because it wore Raymond's clothes, his watch and his wedding ring. But what could have happened to him? How had he gotten so old?
Blanche guessed the awful truth at last when she saw the aged, claw-like hand of the dead man still clutching the universal remote control unit.
Just for the record: I wrote this story about five years before Adam Sandler's movie "Click." (I don't want to be suspected of borrowing the idea.)
If only there were a remote control that would work on Salem!