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E. C. Apperson lives in Stillwater, Oklahoma. He's had short stories published in online and print publications. Currently, he is working on a horror novel titled "Beyond Hell."

A Grain of Truth was first published in THE STORYTELLER, January/Febuary/March edition in 1999

A Grain of Truth
E. C. Apperson

“Who’s the old man?” Brad asked.

“Oh, him. He’s been here every day this week to see the President. Says he invented a time machine and has proof.” John laughed. “If you hadn’t been on vacation all week, you’d know.”

“How’d he get by the guards at the gate?” Brad asked.

“They finally got tired of hearing his story and sent him to us,” John replied.

“Have you checked out his story?” Brad wanted to know.

“Heck no. He’s just a crackpot from the back hills of Arkansas,” John replied.

“Our job as agents is to not only protect the President and watch the White House but to be public relations people too. I’ll go talk to him.” Brad headed in the old man’s direction.

“You’ll regret it,” John said.

Without a second thought, Brad marched up to the old man and asked, “Sir, can I help you?”

“Why yes,” he said. “I invented a time machine and I’d like the President to know about it. I hid it in a cave in the hills so no one could find it.”

“What’s your name, old timer?” Brad asked.

“Me? Woodrow Molloff!”

The old man had a wild look in his eyes but that didn’t deter Brad. He’d seen crackpots before and the only way to get rid of them was to hear them out. This old man was no exception.

“Well, Mr. Molloff, show me what you have and I’ll make sure the President sees it.” Brad stepped backward a half step in case the old man did something drastic.

The old timer pulled an enlarged black and white picture out of a folder and stuck it in Brad’s face. “Check this out.” The poor guy’s hand trembled.

The picture of a general store, probably in the late 1800’s, wasn’t of the best quality. Brad noticed several items displayed on shelves through the glass of the storefront. He frowned. Something wasn’t right but he couldn’t for the life of him figure out what.

“What am I looking for, Mr. Molloff?”

“Don’t you see it?” The old man seemed agitated.

Brad looked again, closer, but still couldn’t figure out what made him uneasy. “I’m sorry sir, but I don’t see anything out of the ordinary.”

The old man stabbed his finger at the picture of a doll displayed on a shelf. Brad stared at it for a full minute before it dawned on him that the object couldn’t have been in that store back then. The doll in the window was much like a Cabbage Patch Doll, one quite similar to the doll his daughter Amy owned.

“You had this picture fixed!”

“Not me. Never! That doll belonged to my granddaughter. Do you see the other item?” He tapped his finger at something small.

Brad looked where the old man indicated. “What in the world?” He couldn’t believe his eyes, didn’t want to believe, what sat on the shelf. It was a credit card. He couldn’t read the name but could make out the Visa symbol.

“It was my wife’s card. She kept going over her limit so I sent it back where it couldn’t do any harm.”

Brad tried to stifle a laugh but wasn’t successful. The old man appeared angry so he forced his poker face back into position and said, “I’ll make a deal with you. I will give this picture to the president and you come back in a few days to see what he say’s about it. Okay? Is it a deal?”

“I’m not stupid! The President will never see it. You’re just humoring me.”

Brad watched the old man amble away, headed for the front gate. He figured it would get rid of him for a few days at any rate. He’d be back, they usually did. The picture had to be a hoax but he couldn’t figure out why an old man from the back hills would do something like this.

“Hey, take a look at this,” Brad said extending the photograph to John. “Tell me what you see.”

“It’s a general store. So?”

“Look closer, at the objects on the shelves.” Brad couldn’t stop the smile that played at his lips.

“Just junk, old junk,” John observed. “Soap, a washboard, a doll…”

“Yeah, but what kind of doll?”

“What, no way, it couldn’t be.” John looked closer. “It has to be a forgery.”

“That’s not all, look on this shelf.” Brad indicated the credit card.

“My eyesight’s not that good. What is it?” John wanted to know.

“It’s his wife’s credit card.” Brad waited for John’s reaction, which didn’t take long.

The man tried to keep from laughing but couldn’t. Face red, he laughed until he couldn’t do so any longer.

“I know, it has to be a fake but it does look real,” Brad said. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. I’m going to take this to the office, the others will get a good laugh out of it too.”

He slipped quietly into the side door of the White House and into the security room. Most of the others were out on the morning break, probably having coffee, so he laid it on a filing cabinet and returned to his duty station outside.

At the end of their eight hours of duty outside, Brad and John returned to the security office after their replacements arrived. Brad had all but forgotten about the photo until Cindy, an office aid, drew everyone’s attention.

“Whom does this picture belong to?” she asked.

Brad piped up. “It’s a fake an old man gave me today. I thought everyone would get a good laugh out of it.”

“Well, you set it on my filing cabinet and I thought someone wanted it checked. So I did. It’s not a fake. It’s authentic. The computer verified it.”

“What? It couldn’t be. You’ve made a mistake,” John said.

“Would you care to check?” Cindy displayed her lower lip puckered into a pout for John.

“Yeah, I sure would,” John replied. He grabbed the photo out of Cindy’s hand.

Brad watched as John put the photo on the scanner and let the computer do the job. The result came out just as Cindy predicted.

“We have to get that old man back,” John said.

“What are we gonna tell the president?” Brad asked. “We can’t keep this from him.”

“Well, we have his name and I’m sure we can come up with his address. There’s one problem, you told me he’d hidden the time machine in a cave in the hills.” John became silent.

“One step at a time,” Brad beamed a smile and motioned Cindy to join them.

“Would you see what information you can find about a Woodrow Molloff from Arkansas?” Brad knew Cindy would do her best.

“Come back in an hour and I’ll have his life history,” Cindy said.

Brad and John requested and received an audience with the President so they could show him the picture and inform him of the situation. They were surprised when he understood how they mistook the old man as a crackpot. He told them to stay on it until they had the time machine.

They hurried back down to the security office where Cindy had a thick folder with their names written across the top laying on her desk. She must have gone off on another errand.

Everything was there, his address in Tree Shade, Arkansas, military records, and even his family history. The man had only gone to the eighth grade in school. This seemed strange to Brad. How could a man invent a time machine with only an eighth grade education?

They hunted and finally found where the old man had stayed in a motel. The clerk notified them that the old man had checked out two hours earlier.

“He must have given up and headed home,” Brad said.

Thirty-six hours later, they flew into Little Rock, Arkansas and rented a car for the trip to Tree Shade. Around mid-day they pulled into town and inquired from some locals how they could get to the Molloff farm. Reluctant at first, the people finally gave them the information they needed.

Fifteen minutes later they turned into a bumpy driveway on one of the many hills in the area. The shocks on the rental car groaned in protest as they dipped through each pothole.

“Look at that house,” John said. “It’s a shack.”

“Yeah, it’s hard to believe some people live like this,” Brad remarked.

A gray haired, slightly bent old woman came out the front door as they pulled up in front. She had an angry look on her face prompting both men to be on the defensive.

“What do you want? Get off my place!”

Both men stepped out of the blue car gently shutting the doors. “Mam’, we’re here to see Mr. Molloff,” John said.

“Well, your not gonna find him. He’s gone.” A grin replaced the dour look on her face.

“Mam’, it’s important we speak with him,” Brad said giving her his best smile.

“Said he was going back to the past where life was simple. Also said he was gonna take his time machine.” She chuckled. “I told him to go ahead, I didn’t need him anymore.” The chuckle turned into a full-blown laugh.

Brad asked, “Do you know where his cave is?”

“Sure, about three hundred yards straight back from the house. You can go look if you want, but he’s already gone.” The woman indicated they could go around the house on one side.

They searched and finally found the cave, empty except for a rusted machine that sat in one corner, and a note, crumpled on the floor. It said, “Honey, I couldn’t take your gripping anymore and the government wouldn’t listen so I went back a hundred years. Life was simple back then. I’ve set the machine to go back with me. Goodbye!”

“Oh, boy. What do we tell the President now?” John asked.

“The truth!” Brad replied.

Brad and John returned to Washington and reported their findings to the President. Afterward they returned to the security office. Cindy sat at her desk with a wiry smile.

“Your picture changed,” Cindy said.

“Changed? What do you mean?” Brad asked.

“Here, look.” Cindy handed him the photo.

In the background, behind the display case, stood Woodrow Molloff, grinning from ear to ear.


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