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The Space-Time Martini of Grandfather Mirabilis

"He can't be gone." Art stared at the four foot high, thirty-legged, polka-dot spider wearing a straw boater. "Grandfather summoned me. He wouldn't just disappear." His grandfather did weird things, but sending fake urgent invitations wasn't one of them.
The elongated daddy-long-legs struck a dramatic pose. "There's a message. 'Find the third suitcase. Above all, find me. Find me, wherever I am.'"
Art frowned. "That's it?"
Polka bowed. "He instructed me to memorize the message, told me to expect a visit from his grandson, and phazed out. He didn't even seemed perturbed."
Puzzled, Art said, "So, what's this about a suitcase?"
"I expect, some version of space-time." The spider sounded cautious. "Perhaps."
Art sighed. And there it was, the nub of the problem. For Grandfather Mirabilis dabbled in time, and space. Art recalled hearing of a diplomatic function he'd attended once, along with various luminaries, tycoons, philanthropists, men of wealth and influence. By any definition, Grandfather had been the only genius present. True, he'd forgotten more about theoretical physics than most people ever bothered to learn. During that function Grandfather, martini in hand, had bowed low, waved a theatrical hand and airily declared that he was adding time to his drink. The martini lasted all night. Two hundred witnesses attested to the fact that no-one topped up the drink, which Grandfather drank steadily. A Professor Armbruster had taken notes. Flabbergasted, the others conceded that Grandfather had certain, ah, skills.
And a determination to find alternative space. As practice he'd collected nine suitcases. One he claimed to have forwarded to the nth region of Alpha Centauri, in order (so he said) to get there before the hordes descended.
Had Grandfather hidden himself in some form of alternative space?
"Okay," Art said, "let's go."
Polka stepped aside. The large foyer housed display cases made of glass, membrane, silk and dragonfly wings. In one case, tongues of mutant genuflectors licked their glass walls. In the next, hybrid waterlilies linked petals and danced like dandelion spores in the wind. Grandfather's pride and joy, his so-called "jewels": claws, wings, disembodied faces, half-bodies, the display cases held them all. As Art surveyed them the jewels stopped moving, as if holding their collective breath. "I'll get him back, I promise," he whispered. Instantly they sprang back to life, whirled, danced, spun.
Art and Polka conducted a finger-tip search of the ground floor--thorough, considering the spider's thirty legs--but only found Grandfather's umbrella, concealed behind drapes.
"The shed?" Polka sounded hopeful.
The shed yielded nothing. Nor did crawlspaces, drains, kitchen appliances, soap dispensers.
Art turned to Polka. "Can you use those other senses of yours? Please?"
"With pleasure!" Polka closed all his eyes. "I feel vibrations. Yes. His voice."
"Where?" cried Art.
Polka did a rapid tap-dance. "There. Down under."
"We're idiots." Art shook his head. Grandfather always claimed that the disused cellar was his "safe space." But what, Art wondered, did that mean?
The metal ladder led down to a musty room that housed a large, antique trunk. Art looked round. A set of gardening gloves hung on the luminescent brick walls. He put them on. The trunk was covered in multiple travel tickers with a hand-written '3' scribbled on top. Grandfather's voice seemed to be coming from inside.
Art studied the trunk.
Surely he couldn't be trussed up in there? Or is this some kind of trap? Art opened the trunk. Grandfather's voice rose, loud and clear, from an old-fashioned gramophone, whose turntable and curved metal horn sat on the bottom of the trunk. A vinyl record spun, and the voice said:
"Art? Is that you? Can't find me anywhere? Listen, grandson. Safe space, it's real. I discovered it, that day at the embassy function. It blossomed, bloomed, rose from my martini glass. It's no alcoholic dream, but it's trapped me. Me, conqueror of time, Martini Man, my body who-knows-where, my voice trapped in a trunk. How are the mighty fallen! Now I'm indivisibly entwined with safe space. I implore you, Art: find me. Find me, and set me free."
Here the stylus ran up against the inner track. Scritch, scratch, scritch, scratch. Art reached down, lifted the handle and the vinyl slowed and stopped spinning.
Art looked at Polka. "Okay. Space, time and alcohol. Is there a still around here? Something to make alcohol?"
"Disguised? Transmogrified? Pretending to be a coffee machine, maybe?"
"No still would escape my attention." Polka sounded faintly offended. "I dust very, very carefully."
Suddenly, Art suspected that Polka knew more than he was letting on. Perhaps he and Grandfather were both playing some game of misdirection. A message in the cellar? A vanishing act? What a runaround. Art signaled Polka to follow him and climbed back up the ladder. He turned and folded his arms. "Okay, where's Grandfather?"
The spider shivered, said nothing.
Fed up, Art seized Grandfather's umbrella and lunged at the spider. Polka leapt backwards, scurried up onto the edge of a rectangular tank, and balanced there precariously.
"Where's Grandfather?" cried Art.
Polka teetered and nearly fell in the tank's clear liquid. Still he said nothing.
The liquid in the tank gave a tiny shiver. Slowly, a single bubble formed and rose to the surface. "Stop that!"
"Grandfather!" Art whirled round. "You're in there?"
Another bubble or two. "Indeed. Get my door-keep back down onto terra firma. Stop bullying him. Immediately."
"Okay, if you agree to get out."
"What is this, blackmail?"
Art glanced at Polka, and suddenly had an idea. "I'll push him in. Do you really want your spider in there with you, Grandfather?"
A long pause. "Not ... particularly. A good, honest worker, fun, too. Loyal as anything. He followed my instructions to the letter. Do you like his hat? But, as to communal bathing, no. Let's not."
Art signaled. Polka skittered down and backed off. Art turned back to the tank. "Grandfather, can you get out?"
A small, unassertive bubble. "No."
Art sighed. His eccentric, genius Grandfather had found safe space, alright, in a large martini.
"It's nice in here." Grandfather sounded relaxed.
"You want to stay?" Panicked, Art cried, "But you called me here! You sent me an invitation, remember? You wanted me to help, right?"
"Okay." Think, think. "Grandfather?"
"This is about that embassy function, isn't it?"
"Ah." This time, Art thought he detected an edge to the voice. "Yes. Afterwards, Armbruster sent me this glass tank, full of 95% proof pure alcohol. Deconstructed martini. Man thinks he's smart." A pause. "He's not."
"Grandfather, come on! Just, get out."
A single bubble rose and settled down again.
End of communication.
Art fumed. Grandfather, soaked in alcohol, was apparently content to stay there. Insane. He glanced at Polka, who backed even further away.
Art tapped the glass case again. "Grandfather?"
No answer.
Art raised his voice. "I'm having technical difficulties, here, Grandfather. Fair warning: I'm going to drain this glass case. I'll set jam jars underneath, here, and run a hose down from the outlet, there, so I can fill 'em up when the liquid drains. Imagine. You'll wind up distributed, possibly unevenly, between twenty or more different jam jars. That won't be fun. Think about it, Grandfather. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life in jam jars?"
The placid surface of the alcohol trembled.
I've got him, thought Art, exultant. "You can get out, Grandfather, I know it! Remember when you found your safe space. It "blossomed, bloomed, rose" from your martini glass, you said. Your words, not mine. If you stay, Armbruster wins. But you're the winner, aren't you?"
"Yes." Grandfather's voice sounded hollow. "Jam jars? Oh no, no, no. That way madness lies."
The liquid roiled and rose to a point, like some fantastic quiff. It tilted, trembled and slopped onto the floor. Art leapt back. The liquid kept rising, curving and splashing down on the floor. In the process it emptied the case. On the floor, the liquid condensed, surged upwards and shot out arms, legs, a head, an entire body. Grandfather, wet, wrinkled and naked, stood before him, grey hair plastered to his head and a grin from ear to ear.
Art got his breath back. "Wow. You did it."
"Yes." Grandfather paused. "Mirabilis has returned. No-one challenges me." Leaving wet footprints behind, he padded past Art then turned. "And for the record, boy, I was the only genius at that party." He turned to Polka. "Anything to eat?"
The spider looked sideways at Art and danced off, Grandfather close behind. Art turned to the display cases. "He's back, guys."
The jewels went ballistic.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, July 17th, 2020
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