Norris spun the wheel of his lighter against the small piece of
flint, and a flame ignited the tinder he had hastily assembled
at his feet and soon burst into flame.
damned time, he said aloud, as he sat back on his haunches
and pulled his kill closer to the fire.
did I ever let them talk me into this?' he thought, as he started
to skin the animal and prepare it to cook.
cast a glance over his shoulder and saw that the machine was sitting
where he had left it two weeks ago. It gleamed in the light of
the fire; its gauges and dials glowed weakly but for all intents
and purposes, were totally useless now. Somehow, he had messed
up what was supposed to be an easy, everyday entry into the past
and he was now, sadly, stuck here.
he said again, I just cant win.
* * *
young girl out for a walk with her dog discovered the bones. The
week before, there had been a terrible rainstorm that had caused
the local creeks to swell and for some of them to overflow their
banks, exposing the layers below. Time was pushed aside as the
rushing waters did what they do so well.
call came to the college the next morning after the police had
determined that there had been no crime committed and that they
would not be involved in this situation.
Thomas, a third year post graduate student in Anthropology, had
been the lucky fellow assigned to the phones that night and he
dutifully wrote down the caller's statement, asked a few standard
questions and decided that the best thing for him to do was to
phone his professor for his input.
J. Thomas Lowe swung his feet from his bed as he picked up the
receiver and spoke quietly, not wanting to awaken his wife.
what is it?
been found, sir, right where you predicted it might be. I thought
you might want to know and called you right away.
thank you. You did well, and I thank you for the call.
Lowe slowly ran his hands through his unruly long hair and attempted
to sweep it back and put it into his usual ponytail with no success.
hundred and fifty thousand years ago, he walked here and he died
here. Who was he and most importantly, how did he come to be here?
he wondered aloud.
doctoral thesis had concerned the fact that there had had early
experimentation with time travel as far back as 2025. That wasnt
the issue. What the issue was, and almost no one outside of the
scientists that actually worked on the projects knew this, was
that three early time machines and their operators had disappeared
and were never heard from again.
final telemetry received on the computers before the machines
shifted through the opening in the time slots had been expectedeverything
was normal, but no bounce back occurred then, and with the small
exception of one machine, ever. Already sworn to silence, nothing
was said to the media and it was chalked up as part of the necessary
cost of this new and wonderful technology.
* * *
my research, I happened on a document that had been tucked into
the back of an old, obscure hard drive under its connection ribbon
at the universitys library. What made it stand out was that
it was handwritten on a piece of real paper. I had only seen three
pieces of paper in my life up to that point and I now held in
my hands a primitive letter, and that alone excited me.
I read the text that was from a Dr. Richardson to a fellow member
of academia in reference to a lost machine and its operator in
2028, I knew that I might be on to something important.
document concerned a finding at a archeological dig that was totally
inconsistent to what should have been found in an area that had
once been thought to be inhabited by a race of pre homo sapiens
that were well known to have existed at that time.
I know its been years since we have touched base with
one another and for that Im truly sorry. My wife and I
speak of you and Linda fondly so very often and we both regret
that our careers have pulled us apart. We have never forgotten
the days when the four of us would spend hours discussing our
various views of life and spending time together.
The life of an active and untenured professor of archeology
was a constant battle of wills. My will to succeed and the universitys
will exerting itself by insisting that I publish or perish in
my chosen profession have taken its toll on me.
Im tired of the infighting between the departments
and Im especially tired of the ass kissing that is expected
in order to secure youre esteemed place in this hallowed
sphere of life.
It is for those reasons and many more that I could not mention
at that time, that I write you now after all these years and
I pray that you will understand.
Many years ago, I was assigned as an assistant to Professor
Kensington (Im sure you remember him from our glorious
days in college. He was an asshole then and an even larger one
now) on a dig that was very near where you now live.
The last thing on Earth I wanted to do was assist him in
this endeavor, but being in the position I was in I couldnt
refuse, so bowing my head and taking the last chance offered
for my tenure by the university, I accepted the job.
For the first fifteen days there was nothing out of the
ordinary on this dig. Mark and set out the grid in five-foot
squares, the undergrads scurrying about with their trowels and
brushes and I was firmly ensconced by the sieves to observe
and study what was brought up from their labors.
It was the daily life of an archeologist from sun up to
sun set, day after day. Sometimes finding something of interest
but most of the time, as you well know, we didnt.
Kensington would make a perfunctory examination of the finds
or lack thereof once a day and loudly exclaim to all within
earshot that our work was being done incorrectly, and that there
was no proper supervision.
I bit my tongue so hard that I drew blood on more than one
occasion to keep from embarrassing both myself and my students
with his daily tirades, but my family and tenure were that important
to me at that time, so I kept my mouth shut.
I dont think Ill ever be able to forget that
day or what Im going to reveal to you now or what the
implications of this find meant. You know me well enough to
know that I never had the sense that God gave a mule to keep
my mouth shut, but this
this went beyond anything I had
ever seen or even imagined.
In an area of the dig that had been electron dated to two
hundred and fifty thousand years ago, I made a startling discovery
in the form of a titanium metal device that had been used to
ignite rolled tubes of shredded toxic plants called tobacco.
On the bottom of the device were the engraved words, ZIPPO
us pat pending. On one side were two letters that looked
to have been engraved by hand. They were faint but still legible
and were a J and an N.
I had seen such a device in a museum many years after the
government banned the use of all tobacco and alcohol products,
but to actually hold one in my hands was a thrill beyond belief.
I could only imagine who had owned this device and why was
it where we found it. It didnt make sense. The time frame
didnt fit and after hours of thinking the only logical
reason it would have been found is because someone from another
time had been there.
I asked my students to remain quiet about the discovery
until I had a chance to investigate further and contacted a
man that had been indirectly involved with the early experiments
in time shifting.
He asked me to come to his home with the artifact and that
he would try and authenticate my find. He also stated that he
had in his possession certain disks that might help me better
understand what I had found.
When I arrived at his house, the old man greeted me warmly
and ushered me inside. I felt as if I had stepped into the past;
the walls were covered with photographs of him with various
famous people, many that I recognized including several of then
President Thomas handing him an award.
After a few moments of pleasantries, he asked to see the
artifact, which I handed to him to examine. I watched his face
to see the reaction to my find but didnt expect to see
tears well in his eyes.
"JN. Jimmy Norris, he whispered, as he turned
the device over in his hand, one of the first men to time
shift and bounce back successfully. I think he did it four or
five times before he was lost. Damn shame too. He was a good
The strangest thing happened though. Three years later Jimmys
shift machine had suddenly reappeared in the laboratory with
no warning. It was scarred and somewhat battered but otherwise
in good shape.
He asked where the lighter, as he said the device was called,
had been found and I told him where and that it had been electron
dated to a quarter million years ago. He shook his head not
believing what I had just said and gripped the lighter tighter
in his hand.
I want to tell you something. He said after a few
minutes of arguing with himself. Something that needs
to be told. You need to understand that what we were doing then
followed a well laid out plan that the powers that be said we
should follow. We knew it was wrong from the beginning but couldnt
argue. They did, after all, write the checks that kept us in
groceries and we all had families then. It was truly a damned
if you do and damned if you dont situation and we didnt
like it, but what were we to do?
page broke off then, torn from whatever notebook it had been in,
and left me wondering. I turned several more pages but couldnt
find a continuation. Faced with the same problem, a thousand possible
scenarios ran through my mind and I slapped my hand down on the
file in frustration.
* * *
Norris was one of the new crew that had been recruited from an
Ivy League university while he was still in graduate school. Young,
brash and a head full of new ideas, Jimmy was quick to grasp the
important implications of the job being offered to him and didnt
hesitate to take their offer.
months of highly intensive training followed before being introduced
to the men that would be responsible for his jaunts back into
time. These were seasoned sages. White haired, white coated and
looking like each and every one had accepted a Nobel Prize sometime
during their lifetime.
time shifters were simple enough to operate, though not easily
understood by anyone but the builders as to the ways and means
by which they did what they did. He didnt care about that
at all. He wanted to be one of the first to flick the switch and
then momentarily step back into another time.
wasnt the first to time shift, though. That honor went to
a man who had been with the project from its conception and had
helped design some of the more complex components of the system.
the time came for the first test, Jimmy and his fellow Chosen
ones had gathered around the turret set high above the stage and
behind the thick, dark glass that enclosed them. Their eyes darted
from the countdown timer to the man seated in the sleek machine
man in the machine never moved, but his lips curled into a smile
and his eyes twinkled as the clock continued the countdown. As
the time remaining neared zero, a light flashed on the wall in
front of them. Each passing second caused the light to flash brighter
and brighter. Alarm bells rang in sync to the lights until the
time shift trigger tripped and they all were blinded for a brief
second as the light became intensely incandescent.
man and the machine were gone from the stage below them. A thin
tendril of white vapor dissipated slowly into the air above the
stage and was the only evidence that something had been there
a few moments ago and was now gone.
wonder and astonishment were painted on the faces of those present
at this first test as the true reality crashed into their brains.
Their companion had disappeared from view, in front of their eyes,
in a machine that until a few months ago was nothing more than
a CAD drawing on an engineers computer screen.
Norris held his breath as the events played out before him. This
is what he wanted to do with his life. He had been born for this.
He wanted to see what had been behind him and not what was in
front. He cared little about the future. The past and all that
had occurred was his desperate wish and with this new technology,
it might now be granted.
one minute and forty-seven seconds after the first shifter left,
the hair on the back of Jimmys neck tingled and a clap of
thunder along with another bright light filled the room. The smell
of ozone permeated the space briefly and when their eyes were
able to adjust, the man was back in the same spot he had left
still sat astride the machine but gone was the fresh-faced man
from a few minutes ago. He now carried the thousand yard
stare associated with men that have been in battle and seen
things that the brain could not or perhaps would not comprehend.
techies rushed forward and assisted him off the machine, checked
his vital signs and then when his legs refused to cooperate, dragged
him to a small room reserved for debriefing.
was never seen again.
* * *
white-coated scientist stood at the podium in the front or the
auditorium and adjusted his notes. Sweat beaded on his forehead
and ran down his face. He tapped the microphone in front of him
several times, heard the feedback through the speakers and then
leaned forward to speak.
happened here last week was a terrible tragedy and it should never
have occurred. It was a glitch in the program that I have now
been assured that it is fixed and will no longer be a problem.
The next man to shift can now rest easy.
eyes carried across the room, stopping on each and every one of
the Chosen, a collective sigh rose into the air.
this endeavor is so much greater that we, as individuals, are.
The risks are greater and danger abounds, but if we are successful,
the world will change for the better through our sacrifice.
a new virus threatens us, or a new plague descends upon mankind,
we have but to go back in time and remove the threat. If an enemy
of our Nation attempts to destroy us, we simply shift back and
stop it before it happens.
will have no more enemies.
will become invincible. Untouchable, and it will be because of
your selfless dedication that we arrive at this point in our history.
scientist paused, raised his glasses off his face and wiped a
tear from the corner of his eye. He rubbed the bridge of his nose
several times and let his glasses fall back into place.
asking for a volunteer. I want a brave man that is unafraid to
face the past, a man that wants to do his part to make the world
right. I want a man that we can all be proud of, a native son,
and that is not afraid of the uncertain terrain he might encounter.
there such a man among us? The white-coated scientist pumped
his arms over his head and looked out expectantly over the audience.
* * *
Norris sat back against the rock and arranged himself away from
the sharp edges. He sucked the last morsel of meat from between
his teeth and spat it on the ground in front of him.
remembered the famous speech that brought all this shit down on
him in the first place and laughed deep in his throat.
an ass to have believed that crap in the first place. He sighed
and briefly closed his eyes, shaking his head. That I could
have had an impact on the world by my selfless actions. Now look
at me. Alone. Stranded somewhere in time with no hope of getting
back to where I belong.
angrily threw another stick onto the small fire he had in front
of him, and as the sparks spilled away from the heat and lifted
into the night sky, wondered what tomorrow would bring.
lifted the un-cured skin from an animal he had never heard of
but had proved to be an easy kill with a thrown rock off his shoulders
and lay it fur side up beside him. The stench no longer bothered
him. It was part of his existence now, just like not bathing daily
had ceased to be a problem, and after all, whom would he offend
here? And besides, it was cool at night and any warmth he could
garnish was better than none.
* * *
dawned and as the first rays of light filtered to his makeshift
sleeping quarters Jimmy awoke, stretched and sat up. Rubbing the
sleep from his eyes, he looked around.
night's fire was but a smoldering remnant on the ground beside
him with a few wisps of white smoke seeping from between the charred
ashes. He picked up a piece of leftover meat from last night's
meal and took a small bite, chewed it a couple of times and swallowed.
was his morning ritual, he walked to the silent, dead machine
and sat down on its seat, wiped the hair out of his eyes and took
a deep breath. He placed his finger on the trip trigger, checked
the date and then pushed the trigger.
happened. It was as dead and as useless today as it had been yesterday,
but he still held out hope that something would happen to send
him back to where he belonged.
got off the machine in disgust and, gathering his few possessions,
kicked what was left of his campfire apart and set out into the
harsh terrain to find food.
* * *
had no choice but to depend on his wits in this strange world.
He was not an outdoorsman, never had been, but he had read books
about other people and their travels while growing up. He felt
that he was at least as good as they had been and that he could
survive under any circumstances that he found himself in.
one thing he feared more than anything else in this strange land
was becoming injured or sick. He had no control over that happening
and took great pains to see that it didnt occur. Many nights
he went hungry because he thought with his brain instead of his
stomach and, many times, passed up a kill if it felt the least
bit threatening to him or his survival.
* * *
day was beautiful. Bright, white clouds drifted across the deep
blue sky over the tall, yellow peaks of majestic rock formations
in front of him. Below him was a small stream that over eons had
carved an elaborate channel through the stone. Large fish of some
unknown species lazily leaped from the waters and reentered without
a splash. He was immediately intrigued.
stood at the water's edge and shaded his eyes to try to peer below
the surface. His tongue unconsciously snaked out and licked across
his cracked lips. He changed position with the sun behind him
and was able to see the fish clearly.
looked down at the water and caught a glimpse of his reflection.
The sight startled him and he stumbled backward and took a deep
I look like a bum, he thought.
hair had grown down past his shoulders and he had a scraggly looking
dark beard that was matted with small bits of unidentifiable debris
stuck to the coarse hairs.
can this be? he pondered. I havent been here long
enough for this to have happened. But then again, maybe I have.
squatted on his haunches, the fish momentarily forgotten, and
wondered just how long he had actually been in this lonely land.
He hadnt seen or heard another human being since the day
he had shifted, and it was beginning to grate on his nerves.
air temperature rose quickly as the bright sun moved overhead.
When he looked at the water again, the fish had moved into deeper,
cooler water and except for the sound of water hissing over the
smooth rock, it was quiet.
he stood and walked away from the stream towards the base of the
towering rocks where a small area of shade could be seen below
* * *
miles away and unknown to him, at his camp where the shift machine
sat idle, a light began to glow dimly on the control panel. Two
more lights blinked on in quick succession and a faint but distinct
hum began to fill the air.
trip trigger armed itself and the countdown clock reset to one
hundred and when the fourth light on the panel came on and glowed
brightly, began to turn backwards towards zero.
* * *
happened to be looking in the direction of his camp when the bright,
white-hot light blazed into existence followed by a loud clap
of thunder and then just as quickly died out.
the hell? he shouted, leaping to his feet.
knew in his heart what the light had been and started a wild run
back to his camp. He knew with every heavy step that the machine
would be gone and that he was now completely trapped in the past.
was so intent on his maniacal run back to his camp that he didnt
notice that his lighter had managed to work its way up to the
top of his pocket and fell out on the dusty ground, slid a few
inches and came to rest under a small, woody bush.
* * *
machine was gone. All that was left was the imprint of the two
rails of the machine base and his footprints. He screamed in frustration
and fell to the ground, pulling his legs up to his chest and wrapping
his arms around them. Tears of defeat poured down his face and
dripped to the dusty ground.
was lost. Abandoned in the past. His greatest fear since arriving
here had become a reality because there was no way back. All the
great words he had heard and accepted as gospel while in training
were now thrust upon him in bone chilling clarity.
had been reduced to what amounted to an island in the huge sea
of the past and it was up to him to either live or die. It was
lay on the ground and wallowed in self-pity until the growling
in his belly reminded him that he hadnt eaten today and
he found himself hungry.
fish, he thought.
sat up and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, took out
the last cigarette from the crumpled pack he had hoarded, and
reached into his pocket for the lighter.