Lodovico Senarinz and his (Grandfather’s) Steam Powered Hyperdrive
By Jeff Baker
“There it is! There’s the barn!”
Johnny Reade pointed his flashlight at the dark bulk in the dusk. It looked like something out of the 1800’s but was only about thirty years old. “The stuff’s inside.”
“Okay. Got the key?” Luis looked around carefully; over to the sign that read “Wichita’s Old Cow-Town Museum.” All the buildings on the dusty main street straight out of “Gunsmoke” were shut down for the year. Unless they were filming a commercial or on days when the shops would be filled with Wild West Reenactors. But not at nine p.m. on a weekday in October.
Johnny grinned and held up the steel key which glinted in the moonlight.
“An advantage of working security here,” Johnny said as he fiddled with the lock. With a POP it opened and they pulled open the door, ducking inside. He fumbled and found the light switch.
“Woah!” Luis said. In the barn there were several large contraptions dating back over a century; examples of plows, combines and a Model T.
“It’s back here,” Johnny said. They walked around the other machines and saw a low-slung cross between a stagecoach and a Stanley Steamer. Luis leaned down and read the plaque on the panel beside the machine.
“Early automobile designed by Lodovico Senariz in 1889. His original design may pre-date Benz’ automobile. Senariz (1858-1929) Latin-American inventor and scientist lived in Kansas in the 1880s.” Luis looked up and grinned. “My Great-Great-Grandfather. And namesake.”
“No wonder you go by Luis,” Johnny said. “What did your Grandmother tell you?”
“That Great-Great-Grandpa said that this car could run faster than anything on Earth, travel across water and reach other worlds.”
“And you got the key?”
“Yup.” He held up what looked like a twisted fork. “Hidden in the old broken pot in my Dad’s garage.”
“So, it’s a crackpot invention, huh?” Johnny said.
“Yeah, right,” Luis said with a grin. Truth to tell, he wasn’t sure. “Let’s try this out, okay.” He opened the door to the cab of what he had to call a car and the two of them got in.
“Fasten seat belts,” Johnny said, fumbling around in the seat.
“There aren’t any,” Luis said. “We’ll just have to hang on. If this works.”
He ran a finger around the dashboard and the big lever that served as the steering wheel until he found the raised round panel, about the size of the dome of a pocket watch.
Maybe it came off of a pocket watch, Luis mused to himself. Luis flipped it open and there was a strangely twenty-first-century-looking ignition. Luis took a deep breath, glad he’d found and studied Great-Great Grandpa’s plans for the vehicle.
“Shouldn’t we open up the doors again, maybe move this thing out from behind the other machines?” Johnny asked.
“If I read the plans right, we won’t need to,” Luis said putting the key in the ignition. “Hang on.”
Luis turned the key. The old car shuddered and began to sputter and then whir. It was surprisingly quiet. Its lone headlight came on, illuminating the back wall it was facing. Then it lurched forward and Johnny screamed. The wall seemed to fade, like a dissolve in an old movie and they were outside and it was daylight. Johnny glanced behind him: the big shed was gone. So was the asphalt parking lot. The big, red barn where they recreated a farm in the 1800s for the schoolkids was smaller and faded and the chickens in the yard were squawking loudly. Ahead of the a genuine old codger on a horse struggled to control the animal as it reared out of the way of the car which was heading forward at about three miles an hour. Luis caught a glimpse of a dusty main street with low, painted buildings, not the peeling paint on some of the museum’s recreations.
Then the car shuddered again and the scene blurred. For an instant, there was a tall, spired city in the distance and then the car shuddered violently, stalled and with a bang from the engine stopped as the sky once again went dark and they recognized the familiar surroundings they had just left.
Johnny came close to kissing the ground when he nearly fell out of the car. He and Luis began to frantically put out the smoking engine. Johnny stared around at the outdoor museum, comparing it to the glimpse of Eighteen-something they had just seen.
Luis stared up at the stars. The future lay ahead.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The prompts for this story were a western, set in a museum involving a cracked pot. I probably stretched the definition of “Western” in this, but the outdoor museum version of frontier Wichita, Kansas “Cowtown” is a real place. And I’d been reading an old dime novel story by one of the US’s first POC Sci-Fi writers, Luis Senarens (1865-1939) who wrote under a house name. My Luis here is named after the real one. And Johnny Read is named after dime-novel hero Frank Reade. (My story may play too much like a certain movie from decades ago, as well as my recent Friday Flash story “Messing About in Boats.”)