Late for class again, Ben was racing up the stairs in front of the Main Library on campus. He had been putting the finishing touches on his project and lost track of time. As he got to the top of the third and final flight of steps, he stumbled on his shoelace and caught himself before face planting.
Ben nudged his glasses back up his nose. That was when he saw it. Professor MacGregor, who was visiting from England, stepped right off the curb before him in front of the campus delivery truck. With no time to spare, Ben instinctively lunged forward, grab the back of the Professor’s lab coat, and jumped back. The truck whooshed by inches in front of them, the breeze of its passage stirring the men’s hair.
“Whoa, that was close, I dare say,” said MacGregor. no longer reading the enormous book in his hand.
“Yes, it was. You need to be more careful, Professor.”
“I agree, young chap. I agree.” MacGregor had a twinkle in his eye. “You are … in my 11 o’clock lecture, are you not?”
“Yes, that’s right. Ben. Ben Whitlock.”
“Whitlock! Yes, that’s it. Say, you are a bright one, Mr. Whitlock. As well as saving my life. Ahem.” MacGregor rifled through his coat pockets, looking for something.
He pulled out a what appeared to be a coin, though it was oddly shaped and dull. “Yes, here it is. A token, my dear boy. For saving my life, you see,” he explained ambiguously, handing it to Ben.
Ben took the offered coin. “A token for what?” he asked.
“A Sidrat token, of course,” he said. “Aren’t you late for class? It’s over in, let’s see,” he said glancing at his watch, “less than three minutes, now.”
Ben had forgotten. “Oh, that’s right!” He took off on a dead run, clutching the token in his hand.
* * *
Several nights later, Ben and his study group were holed up in the library, grinding through problems too numerous to count or mention.
Yawning, Ben leaned back in his chair. “I think I’m going downstairs to get a drink,” he announced. The others just mumbled and shooed him on, engrossed in the fascinatingly arcane solutions to the problems they worked on feverishly.
The elevator trip to the basement was uninterrupted, and Ben emerged in the poorly lit corridor. A fluorescent light flickered and hummed overhead. He started to walk towards the row of vending machines down and across the narrow dirty hallway. As he walked towards the big glowing red soda machine though, he noticed a new vending machine, second to the last in the row. That’s odd, he thought. I haven’t seen that one before.
Diverted now, he went to the new vending machine. On its front, the name ‘Sidrat Vending Company’ was printed in big black letters.
“Sidrat?” he muttered to himself. He fished the token that Professor MacGregor had given him out of his pocket. The token, sort of egg-shaped but with flat sides, also said ‘Sidrat’. He looked back and forth from the machine to the token. “Could it…?” He placed the token in the coin slot.
He stood in a brightly lit room, with high ceilings, and numerous gadgets and contraptions for which that he couldn’t fathom a purpose. It appeared to be a huge laboratory of some kind. It took a moment for him to realize he stood there slack-jawed. “Where … ?”
Behind him, he hear Professor MacGregor’s voice. “Ah. There you are! Nice of you to join us, Mr. Whitlock. Splendid. Jolly good. Care for a spot of tea?”
Copyright © 2014 Eric Schweitz