Life in the Year Two Thousand
by Russell Lutz
forum: Life in the Year Two Thousand
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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Life in the Year Two Thousand


       In the latter days of what is now named The Eighteenth Century, the gentleman whose words you hold in your hands spent his days on a farm just outside of the city of Portland in the territory of Maine. His father, the Earl of Timberlake, gave his son the dubious Christian name of Josiah. With the arrival of Independence for the colonists populating the eastern shores of this wild continent, this Earl quickly and happily renounced his title and honors, both of which holding far less absolute value than one might suspect for a Lord of England, to become one with the rough and ready cabal of farmers, bankers and other persons of professional quality that proudly called themselves Americans.

       It is possible that my father, the aforementioned Earl, was more inclined to see Independence as a boon to these lands allowing that the birth of his first and only son fell on the precise date of General Washington's extraordinary victory in the city of Trenton, one day after Christmas in the year seventeen-hundred-seventy-six. It follows that in the Winter of seventeen-hundred-ninety-nine, I enjoyed various festivities in celebration of my twenty-third birthday. A feast of modest proportions filled the hours of mid-day, and was followed with the waning of the sun by performances theatric and musical from several well respected personages from Portland.

       My father entertained a business partnership with a gentleman named Eli Hornfly, a boisterous man of advancing years who used his cane as a weapon oftener than as a cane. Mr. Hornfly's interest in me was limited to my marriageability to his beautiful young daughter, Elizabeth. Her corn silk hair and emerald eyes captivated my soul instantly when I first made her acquaintance ten years earlier, but as she was only six years old at the time, it became necessary for me to hold my childlike passion in restraint until a more appropriate time. Elizabeth had reached, as of my birthday in this year, sixteen years and was of an age that our courtship could begin. For this reason, the feast and the festivities garnered only half of my attention. I waited breathlessly for that night when Elizabeth and I would meet privately, away from the prying eyes of the house, deep in the moonlit hills.

       I wore my black greatcoat buttoned tight to my chin to ward off the deepening chill as I trudged through the brush. An oil lamp provided me enough light under the thick pine canopy to make my way to a deep, still pond with which both Elizabeth and I were familiar. In the past weeks I had written many letters to her, for she lived miles away in Massachusetts, and I described the environs of our family manor to her in great detail. I had become similarly knowledgeable about her own homestead, which lay on the border between the towns of Framingham and Natick, some days' journey west of Boston.

       The surroundings which I knew so well in daylight were now strange and mysterious in the preternatural darkness and filled me with fear even as the impending meeting with my lover brought me to the brink of ecstasy. The mournful hoot of a snowy owl caused me to drop my lamp, which broke and brought the dry underbrush instantly to flame. I stamped out the fire, thus destroying the lamp and ruining any further chance of man-made light. Thus was I forced to make the rest of the short but treacherous journey by the meager moonlight that slipped through the branches above me.

       The pool was unknown to any others of my family. In the heat of Summer, swimming in the remarkably cool water soothed away the worries and trials of life on my father's farm. In the cool of Autumn, the pool was a place of quiet contemplation. In Winter, the place was far less companionable, however the moon shone bright through this break in the forest. I imagined my reunion with Elizabeth in that magical light with her skin glowing and her hot breath steaming in the still air.

       Hard upon the edge of the pool sat a momentous spur of granite, a favorite spot of mine to warm in the sun after a swim. Elizabeth and I had agreed in our last exchange of correspondence to meet in this place at the stroke of midnight. In my zeal to consummate our love, I was a quarter-hour earlier than scheduled. I was astonished to find that she had already been and gone. Perched atop the granite boulder was an envelope, anchored by a small stone. I pulled down the envelope and tore it open without pause to read the outer assignation.

Dearest Josiah,

       With all my heart I wish that I could say to you in person the words that I now set down in this cold and insufficient note, but circumstances deny me that opportunity. Please forgive this inconsideration.

       Each day which started with a letter from you was joyous; each evening which ended with me writing in response was heavenly. In the story of my life, the punctuation was my exchanges with you, dearest love. Now, those exchanges must end.

       My father has fallen upon hard times, as you are no doubt aware. He has been unable to maintain his distribution partnership with your father, and while Mr. Timberlake has been most gracious in settling accounts, nonetheless our proceeds from this arrangement have ceased.

       In an effort to stave off bankruptcy, my father has rededicated his business acumen to the task of building construction. To solidify his position in the Boston marketplace, he must make good on a promise of friendship with a local lumber baron, Theodore Bunsen. Mr. Bunsen is not the man your father is, but he is well respected in Massachusetts and charming in his way.

       Mr. Bunsen is also recently a widower and in need of a wife. O, that I did not have to write this, darling Josiah! I am to be that wife, and I cannot but do my father's bidding, as you, a good son to your own father, so well know.

       Think of me fondly, sweet lover, and do not dwell on the task I have been given. With God's grace and my father's good favor, my life will be happy, if not as sweet as it might have been with you.



       The substance of the letter filled me with a dreadful agony. I could no more stand as fly to the moon; my legs gave way and I collapsed to the ground, weeping for the life and love I had lost. Sorrow upon sorrow wrenched my spirit. As I jumped to my feet to howl angrily at the moon my left foot slipped off the stone ledge upon which I stood and for a terrible moment my body hung in space, perfectly balanced between stability on the shore and the significant drop to the nearly frozen water below. I waved my arms like some frantic bird in flight, but to no avail. My frame tipped over and I fell headfirst into the chilly depths of the pool.

       The cold smashed into every fiber of my being. I was not fearful for I am an excellent swimmer. I cared more for the damage to my excellent coat. I kicked my legs and tried to swim to the surface with no success. The heaviness of the clothes that I wore pulled me deeper and deeper into the pool. I tried to unfasten the buttons of my greatcoat with hands cramped from the cold of the water. I was unable to control my fingers with any of my usual dexterity.

       Panic gripped me finally as I realized that my life was about to end. I fell to the bottom of the pool, seeing only a glimmer of the moon through thirty feet of water still roiling from my descent. A strange warmth and euphoria covered me like a blanket and I closed my eyes to sleep one last time, thinking of my fair Elizabeth.

* * *

       The warmth and sense of serene calm remained with me as I awoke some time later. I opened my eyes to see not the bottom of a frigid pool of water, but a room of white. Blankets covered me which were thin but amazingly warm. I discovered to my horror that I was unclothed beneath these blankets, unclothed but seemingly alive and healthy. I sat up in my bed.

       The room was square and better finished than any I had ever seen before. The wood of the walls was straight and true, without knots or gaps of any kind. The paint must have been freshly applied, for nowhere did it peel. I cautiously slid my legs out of the bed, holding the blanket around me as makeshift apparel. The floor was smooth stone, but warm to my feet. I could not imagine what place this might be except the Heavenly Reward.

       "Hello?" I called out. There was no response from the Almighty or any of His Angels. I moved to the only door of the small room and looked into the hallway to receive the shock of my life. A man walked slowly towards me. But he was not so much a man as a man and a machine. His left leg was fashioned out of iron, creaking and clanking as he walked. Little puffs of steam escaped through minute gaps at his knee and ankle. The man, whose face betrayed him as an Irishman, smiled to me.

       "It'll take getting used to, I can tell you that," he said.

       "That is certain," I blurted and then returned quickly to my room, breathing heavily. This was not the Heavenly Realm. I had been dropped into the depths of Hell, waiting only to be fitted with a body of iron and flame. It was then that a Voice spoke to me.

       "Everything is alright," said the Voice from somewhere in the room.

       "Everything is most certainly not alright!" I felt my senses slipping away.

       "You must remain calm. We will send someone to you momentarily."

       The thought of a Demon of Darkness entering the room did nothing to calm my excited state. I searched for a weapon, but the only objects in the room were the bed and my improvised clothing. A knock at the door caused me to yell in fear.

       "May I come in?" The voice was that of a woman, not frightening in and of itself, but I knew that Satan could assume a pleasing shape.

       "No!" I yelled. "Stay away from me! You cannot claim my soul!"

       The door opened slowly. I backed away, crossing myself and preparing to meet some hellish creature of the Pit. The woman who peered through the door frame looked quite normal. She wore a small white hat on her head of chestnut hair. Her expression was one of concern.

       "My name is Mary. I am not going to hurt you."

       Her soothing tones calmed my tortured spirit. I nodded to her and she slid through the door, closing it behind her. Her hands were open and empty, raised to me to ensure I knew she meant me no harm. Her dress was plain and as white as her cap and the walls of the room. Her clothing seemed rather modern, though I learned soon enough that I was far from accurate on that account. She wore her hair wrapped in a bun under the cap. Fastened to the breast of her dress was a small tag with her name embossed upon it.

       "Who are you?" I asked, my confusion causing me to dispense with the proprieties of meeting a young woman for the first time.

       "I am a Nurse at this Hospital."

       "A Hospital!" I exclaimed. "Of course I would be in such a place. Please, tell me, is my father aware that I am here? Can you send word to him?"

       The tentative smile that had rested so pleasantly on Mary's face was transformed into a worried frown.

       "You must return to bed," she said to me. "There is something I must tell you."

       "Then tell me! Do not hold back!"

       "Your Father is dead," she said as she lowered her head.

       "Dead! How is that possible? Quick, give me the news!" I began to lose my strength at the thought of my beloved Father's death. Mary, with no thought for my nakedness, put her arms about me and guided me to the bed once again.

       "I fear I have done this the wrong way around," Mary fretted. "You have been asleep for quite some time."

       "I have? Is it the New Year? Have we passed into a new Century now?"

       "Sir, you have passed into the Twenty-First Century!"

       With that information, I fainted.

* * *

       When I next awoke, Mary was waiting by my bed on a stool. She explained, as if to a child, the amazing turn of events that brought me to this time and place. The Winter of 1799 did not abate as all previous Winters in my experience have. The mountain of Aetna in Italy had exploded some days before my birthday celebration, which of course we did not know. The resulting cloud of ash circled the globe and brought the world into a new ice age. The pool into which I had fallen must have frozen solid mere hours later, encasing me in preservative ice. As Spring declined to come to the northern reaches of the new United States of America, snow fell year upon year, covering the lands north of Portsmouth with unyielding glaciers.

       A team of scientists attempting to determine the extent of the glacial damage happened upon my frozen body and, much to their credit, extracted me from my strange resting place, removing me to Boston for treatment. The doctors in this time have miraculous skills, and were able to bring me back to the Land of the Living with no ill effects. Indeed, I am told that I am not the oldest such "living fossil" to be revived.

       Mary went on to explain the state of the World in this time. The United States of America now thrives, the original thirteen states now doubled to twenty-six, extending as far West as the Mississippi River, which is the border with Canada.

       "Canada extends so far to the South?" I asked her, incredulous. We were discussing this topic while I ate my first solid food for the past two-hundred years.

       "Yes. France consolidated the regions of Louisiana and Canada in 1803. Canada then fought their own revolution for Independence in 1814. With the help of our nation, they won and have been free ever since."

       "How remarkable, since France had come to our aid in our own revolution," I remarked.

       "The surge of Democracy has been powerful. Every nation is now a free, democratic land."

       "That isn't possible!" I could not believe such an extraordinary turn of events. "England no longer has a Monarchy?"

       Mary smiled as she shook her head. "There are no Monarchies anywhere. The colonists of South America and Africa took up arms during the years of 1850 through 1900. Various kingdoms of the Far East had their revolutions simultaneously in 1923. The last nation to become a free people was India in 1967."

       "And are there no more wars, with no Kings to bring them about?"

       "Nearly so. The nations of Canada and Mexico occasionally clash in the Rocky Mountain region, but those are gentlemanly disputes unlike the old wars of Europe. The world is, for the most part, at peace."

       I finished the last of my stew and pushed the tray away. "Call for a slave to take this away," I said. Mary's eyes grew wide. "Did I say something amiss?"

       "We no longer engage in that barbaric practice!"

       "Slavery is no more? My heart is gladdened to hear it."

       "The Negroes are as free as you or I, and are paid for their services. I am sad to say that it was not Christian duty but the Ice Age that was the reason for this change of heart of the slave owners in this land. It was that natural catastrophe that brought about the two-pronged change in our society that has brought us so far from your time."

       "And what are those prongs?"

       "Why, they are Mechanization and Hybridization! Tomorrow, I will show you."

* * *

       The next day I woke early, eager to leave this tiny room and visit the new world outside the walls of the Hospital. Mary brought me my original clothing, which had been cleaned and repaired. I was glad to have it, for the modern fashions left me breathless with concern than I might trip over a pant cuff or snag my collar on a fence post. People in this time wound themselves in yards of silk and lace in strange patterns that I could not understand. In comparison, Mary's nurse uniform was a precious throwback to an earlier time: my time.

       Dressed in what I considered appropriate attire, Mary led me through the halls of the Hospital, where I met other patients with bizarre metal limbs.

       "Where are the diseased patients? Are they kept elsewhere?"

       "There are no more diseases. We have, through Hybridization, cured every ailment."

       I was staggered by the thought of every pox, every cancer, every bleeding disease cured.

       "What is this Hybridization?"

       "Botanists have learned to breed plants to provide any sort of cure the body requires. They have bred trees to grow straight and true, providing us with this building material." To emphasize her point, Mary patted one of the walls of the Hospital. "Flowers provide the base of this paint which does not peel. Reeds give us the material for our clothes which is both light and warm. We have few needs that plant life cannot meet."

       "And those needs that plants cannot meet?"

       She led me out the front door of the Hospital into the City of Boston. I gasped at the sight. The city, which I had visited in my youth, was transformed into a modern marvel. Buildings stood ten and fifteen stories tall, straight and true and without the aid of stone. The streets teemed with people, each wearing more strange layers of cloth than the last, in a profusion of colors that would rival the most cleverly designed garden.

       "What do you think of it?" Mary asked.

       "I hardly know where to begin."

       "Where would you like to go?"

       "I want to see the Harbor. I have always fancied sailing ships. I cannot imagine what they might look like now."

       "That is an excellent idea. Come with me." Mary led me through the crowd toward the Common which at least looked like I remembered.

       "How many people live in Boston now?" I asked.

       "A hundred-thousand!" she said. It made sense, as I thought on it, that without the ravages of disease, populations would increase greatly.

       Mary stopped at a small metal podium which rose out of the street. I noticed there was a metal trench, very narrow indeed, running through the stone of the street. She pulled me onto the other side of the podium with her. There was, on the surface of the podium, a button. She depressed it. I heard the clink of metal somewhere underneath, and the whine of machinery at work.

       "What is this?" I asked.

       Mary smiled at me, and then pointed over my shoulder. Coming down the street was a contraption that I had never dreamed possible. It was the seat of a carriage, but with no carriage and no horses to pull it. It rested atop a slender pole of brass which rose up out of the trench I had noticed before. The device slowed and came to a stop before us.

       Mary offered me her arm, and I helped her up into the two-seat device. We sat on the seat, and in front of us, like a small table, was a map of the city. Several points of interest were marked with buttons like the one on the podium we had already seen. Mary pored over the map and found a button close to the harbor. She pressed it, and the horseless carriage rattled to life and sped us on our way.

       "What can this be?" I asked.

       "Have you never seen a cuckoo clock, with people moving in and out of doors on the hour?"

       "I have. Are you saying this is a clock?"

       "The principle is the same. Beneath the street runs a chain cable which pulls this carriage to any point on this map. By pressing this button, I have given the machine the command it needs to take us where we want to go."

       "But what provides the motion?"

       "Steam, of course. Steam engines are very powerful now. Some, as you have seen in your fellow patients, are quite small. Others are quite large." Mary pointed to the left and I saw a building passing by which was, as I looked closer, not in actuality a building, but a huge steam engine, large enough to provide power to any number of these excellent carriages.

       Now that I knew what to look for, through the throngs of Bostonians, I saw other carriages making their way through the streets of Boston. A large carriage holding four people slowed before us. We were forced to wait as it made its way off the main line to a stop. We sped up again, continuing our journey at the speed of a healthy horse's trot.

       "Are there no more horses?" I asked.

       "Certainly there are, but not within the City Limits. They are used for longer journeys from city to city. Oh, look. Here we are."

       Our carriage diverged from the main line and we came to a stop next to another podium. I helped Mary down from the carriage and we walked to the Harbor. The ship berthed directly before us was quite impressive, but not nearly so extraordinary as I had hoped. Mary saw the disappointment in my eyes.

       "Do you not recognize this ship?"


       "This is the U. S. S. Constitution, from the War with England, which is kept here as a piece of history though it does not sail anymore. Look out there."

       She pointed past the familiar ship further into the harbor. What I had taken to be an island some distance off shore was a ship of monstrous proportions floating in open water. The hull was twice again as long as that of the Constitution, though just as wide, giving it a thin, gaunt appearance. The sails reached some two-hundred feet into the air. I made some comment to Mary about them.

       "They are made from reeds similar to the ones that make our clothing. Since they are so light and strong, they can withstand practically any storm."

       "But that ship is just as useless in a dead calm, I would wager."

       "Do you think that is so?" Mary asked, pointing to the rear bridge. Attached to the deck of the ship was a construction that looked oddly like a windmill. At the signal of the Captain of the vessel, the interior of the windmill began to emit steam, and the fans of the windmill began to turn. I watched as the movement of the fans created a breeze that began to billow the sails and move the ship as if there was a slow wind.

       "I am speechless."

       Mary smiled and took my hand.

* * *

       Later in the afternoon, Mary helped me find and hire a carriage of horses: a more familiar method of travel to me. We rode, along a path of excellent smoothness, out of Boston toward Natick. Along the way, I saw many farms raising the exotic varieties of hybridized plants that made this futuristic society so awesome. The stands of trees that grew as straight as ships' masts were breathtaking.

       We made the trip in only two hours which after all the wonders I had seen I still found remarkable. The Hornfly estate remained where it had always been, on the line between Natick and Framingham, but the home itself had been remodeled, or my eyes deceived me. We pulled up in front of the stately manor and handed the reigns to the house Negro—a free man, I reminded myself—before going into the house to meet with the current owner, a man named Frederick Hornfly.

       This Mr. Hornfly resembled Eli somewhat, but was younger and less ill-tempered. He greeted Mary and myself warmly and led us into his study where his eldest daughter Anna waited. When I saw Anna, my whole body shook. Even though she wore the strange wrappings of this time, she was an exact duplicate of Elizabeth. She was even the same age as Elizabeth had been when I last saw her: sixteen.

       "It is a great honor to meet you, Mr. Timberlake," she said to me, and curtsied. I bowed, unable to speak. "When we heard of your emergence from the glacier to the North my father and I reviewed the family records to see if any mention had been made of your disappearance." Anna held up a cracked and faded journal. "We found this. It belonged to my ancient Aunt Elizabeth."

       I began to weep as Anna handed me the book. I trembled as I opened the cover:

       Today I begin my new life as the wife of Archibald Bunsen, but I know now and will know forever that my heart belongs to Josiah Timberlake completely. I know not where he fled on the night that I broke his heart and mine together, but I wish him happiness wherever he finds himself.

       I read no further, for the remainder of the journal contained details of her personal life of which I, sadly, did not partake. I took my solace in the knowledge that she lived a full life and was happy in her way. All I can hope is to do the same, and make this strange and wondrous new world my home.



copyright 2006 Russell Lutz.

Russell Lutz:
Russell Lutz is a writer of short and novel length fiction in a variety of genres.  He has been published in "The SiNK", and online at  He will be featured in June on  He lives, works, and writes in Seattle.