It was almost dusk. Dancing Cloud's mother stared out at the dramatic shadows as they creeped (crept? -- Ed.) across the equally dramatic landscape of craggy cliffs, and steppes, and buttes, and mesas, and plateaus, and rocks, and trees, and birds, and flies, and bugs -- and she sighed the sigh of a mother who hadn't seen her son since last Tuesday. Her husband's Rolex, which was lying on the hard dirt floor of the cold, cramped -- but comfortable -- cave, indicated it was about 7:30, but that meant nothing to her -- to her the watch was a magic talisman that protected them from wolves.
"Manupa papupu mua!" ("Shut that goddamn noise off!") Dancing Cloud's father screamed in rage, but his daughter's Madonna CD blasting away on the boom box could drown out thunder. "Nanua manua papua!" ("I can barely hear myself think!") he yelled at the top of his lungs. Suddenly the music stopped, leaving a ringing echo bouncing off the canyon walls for at least a minute or two.
The Eleventh Century wasn't the same since her son left for the Twentieth Century, Dancing Cloud's mom thought to herself wistfully. She longed to see him again, if for no other reason than to smack him upside the head and dock him from all outdoor activities for a month -- but then again, he was a good boy, and when he returned he'd be bringing with him a number of things they desperately needed. She could still hear her husband's words as he spoke, supposedly in private, to his soon-to-be time traveling son: "Anana mapana a nua a a, manuta alka lina." ("Get plenty of 'A' and 'AA' batteries, and make sure they're Alkaline.")
Meanwhile, about a thousand years in the future, her son was about to make his late night television debut on "The Arsenio Hall Show."
"My next guest did not write a best seller, is not appearing in a recently-released motion picture, and is not promoting a revolutionary new diet -- but his story I'm sure will fascinate you just the same -- give it up for... Dancing Cloud!"
"Thank you, Arsenio. It's a thrill to be here."
"It's probably a thrill for you to be anywhere! I mean, you grew up in a cave in the Eleventh Century; you've been left for dead on a New England beach in the middle of World War Two by Nazis; you've been thrown in the slammer for eavesdropping on the famous 'smoking gun' meeting between John Dean and Richard Nixon that started the whole Watergate Coverup; and you've saved an entire tribe, an entire nation, from annihilation by Nudniks. So, what's it like?"
"What's what like?"
"What's it like to be so... successful?"
"Oh, I don't know, it's hard to say what it's like since I've never experienced anything quite like it before."
"Now, it says here, in my notes, that you've seen the future. Is that true?"
"Yes, yes, I have seen the future. I spent about two weeks in the year 1998 -- or at least it seemed like two weeks."
"Very funny, very funny. Well? What do we have to look forward to?"
"Look for gas prices to go through the roof."
"We've got to take a break for a commercial, Dancing Cloud -- can you stick around a little longer?"
"Great. We'll be right back, with Dancing Cloud, after these words from your friends at Kellogg's."
Even in his brief time in the Twentieth Century Dancing Cloud knew that you don't get asked to stick around for another segment on a talk show unless you're doing well and the host likes you, and Arsenio seemed to genuinely like him. He assumed the producers of the show would give him a tape of his appearance, and he could always borrow his sister's VCR (battery-operated) when he got back to the Eleventh Century so he could show it to everyone -- meanwhile the Frosted Flakes commercial was ending and the band was beginning to play and the lights were coming up...
"Welcome back, welcome back, and if you're just joining us we're talking to Dancing Cloud, a wild and crazy Powloo warrior from the Eleventh Century who was telling me what we have to look forward to in the future. What else? What about Michael Jackson in 1998? By then he'll probably be transparent!"
"I don't remember anything about Michael Jackson but I do recall seeing a magazine article about you, Mr. Hall."
"You did? I mean -- you will? I'm confused."
"Yes, in fact, your picture was on the cover."
"It was? Can you remember what magazine? Was it Time Magazine? Was I Time's 'Man of the Year'?"
"No, it wasn't Time."
"Maybe I'm Ebony's 'Man of the Year'? Or Jet!"
"No, actually it's Scientific American."
"I'm Scientific American's 'Man of the Year' in 1998?"
"No, you're the subject of a scientific study, given that you were the only known person to have ever claimed to have had contact with a time traveler -- me, that is. The article, which is very technical, describes the results of a double-blind test of your ability to predict things -- gas prices, the top-grossing films, the Super Bowl winners -- versus a control group."
"Really? How'd I do?"
"You did slightly better than the control group. You guessed the two teams and the score of the Super Bowl, but missed two of the three top-grossing films -- and you were way off on the gas prices, so the results were inconclusive. But it was a very tough control group, very tough. Still, there was no doubt in most of the researchers' minds that you had met someone who had seen the future."
"Wow. Hey, you've got to come back, man, I mean it, and tell us some more about the future, and the past, and all that kind of neat stuff, okay? Promise?"
"You've got it."
"All right... My next guest can currently be seen in the new movie, 'The Book of the Book: The Movie', in the role of... "
Meanwhile, back in Powloo Territory, which looked a millennium ago just the way it does today, it was dinner time. Over an open flame near the cave entrance Dancing Cloud's mom was heating up some TV dinners her son had brought back with him on a previous time trip.
"Narana lana panarana!" ("I hope you all like Salisbury steak!") she announced to her family. They all grunted unenthusiastically. And then, on a whim I guess, I'm not sure why, I decided to join them for dinner. I know -- it's illogical and confusing, and indefensibly preposterous, but -- so what? I'm the one writing about these people, shouldn't I be allowed to visit them and try to soak up some of their culture so I know what the hell it is I'm writing about? I mean, fair's fair. Besides, the last time I was here, or imagined I was here, my head was in the Xerox -- I don't care what Xerox says, screw them! -- and it was freezing cold. This time there's a nice fire.
"Nu woo?" ("Who's he?") Mr. Cloud asked, meaning me.
"Hi," I began, "I'm from the Twentieth Century. Is that all you've got -- Salisbury steak?" They didn't understand me, but after I mimed eating a really tough piece of meat they immediately sat me down and brought me some homemade soup. It was the saltiest soup I have ever tasted. And then, Uncle Lupo entered. He saw me and did a comic doubletake.
"Who's the paleface?" Lupo asked, showing off his astonishing mastery of colloquial English.
"I'm Jim Reynolds. I'm writing this."
"You are?" Uncle Lupo looked at me the way the doorman at the Plaza Hotel looks at a street urchin trying to sneak past him -- a totally inappropriate look, and I tried to hip him to that fact.
"That's a totally inappropriate look," I verbalized.
"Try this." Lupo then contorted his face into a demonic monkey-like creature with snakes coming out of his eyes.
Then he did a literal about-face and flashed a knowing, urbane, sophisticated look, with a raised eyebrow implying just the right amount of skepticism.
"That's better. Yes, I am in fact the writer and I thought it would be educational to visit this family of Native Americans and learn about them." Lupo said nothing at first, but he was getting agitated until he couldn't contain himself any longer.
"Hey, pass the soup over here, will you?" he finally blurted out. "I like to eat it while it's still hot, you dig?"
I passed him the soup, but whispered out of the side of my mouth, "It's kind of salty."
"I like it that way," he whispered back, shrugging off my warning. "And pass the salt."
Dinner lasted about three hours -- Powloo tradition -- and when it was over, and the crude clay bowls and primitive utensils were cleared away, Dancing Cloud's mother brought out the entire peyote supply and placed it down on the floor in front of me. I had assumed it was probably the native custom to get high after dinner, but no, there was another reason for this, as I was soon to learn.
"Hey, Reynolds, you ever traveled through time?" Lupo asked me, bluntly.
"Why no, I haven't, Uncle Lupo. Why do you ask?"
"Well, Dancing Cloud's mom, my sister-in-law, wants him home, especially with the holidays coming up and all, and she'd like you to eat all the peyote, travel ahead into the future, find him, and bring him back here. Think you can do that?"
"Bapua a a bapua!" Mr. Cloud threw in.
"What did he say?" I asked.
"He said, 'And don't forget the batteries.'"
So now I really found myself in a dilemma. Should I do the Clouds a favor and bring their son back from the seductive streets of the future -- or do I politely beg off, claiming a sensitive stomach? What would you do?
(This ends Chapter Fifty-two.)