I’m shocked that my time machine has worked. At least, I think it’s worked. But I can’t see anything and I’m feeling carsick.
The room smells like I imagined, dust and cool metal, and underneath that, a hint of aftershave. I blink a few times and then touch my eyelids to check that my eyes are open.
It’s not my room anymore. No way. A single uncovered bulb hangs overhead. I haven’t seen one of those outside of a museum! Plus he’s got these long wooden tables covered with real copper wire, wrenches, switches, circuitry. I listen, but no one seems to be home. I try to breathe. I’m so excited. I never expected my time machine to work!
Taped to the wall is a photo of a girl–child with goofy ’80s glasses and hair. My mother, I suppose. I peel it off the wall, careful to keep the tape intact. Then I fold the tape over and pocket the photo, as a test.
I look out the window. It’s dark outside. Like, really dark, only a few streetlights and no overglow. We talked about light pollution in science class, but I never understood it until now. The dark is sort of pretty, but unnerving.
I don’t have time to waste. I sit at the computer, which says it’s an Apple II. Good, I studied these. I saw pictures: the CRT monitor and dual 5 ¼ inch floppy drives.
I go to search for the doco, hoping I can figure out what it’s called. My Novel seems unlikely. I’ve brought the page with me, the page I found deep in my closet when I was sentenced to clean my room over summer vacation. It was rolled up inside the left half of a pair of galoshes. The only other person who had my room was Grandpa, so it must have belonged to him. Those galoshes were his. Even now I’m holding the piece of paper as if it’s a talisman, creased like a love note from me folding and unfolding it.
Nobody would believe me, but the page I found is part of a novel. The novel is about me, Celia, going back in time to save my Grandpa’s novel. I can tell it’s his because it has my real name, Celia, and a bunch of math. I seem to only have part of the equation. But I get chills when I read it. I want to know how the story ends. Also, the science fair is less than two weeks away.
So today after school, I got some of Grandpa’s old circuitry and switches from the garage and made my time machine. That part was easy. The hard part was the relativity recalculation to correct for the Earth’s rotation and revolution through space. I got stuck trying to do the math there, but then I looked at the page from Grandpa’s novel and it gave me what I needed to make my relativity coordinator from an analog potentiometer. I got it for Christmas. My parents like to support my hobbies.
I go to turn on Grandpa’s computer. But there’s a program running already. On the left of the screen is a pixilated picture of a guy in an apron, and the txt says: Hello, I’m Matt.
So you’re going to Oregon! I can fix you up with what you need:
–a team of oxen to pull your wagon
–clothing for both summer and winter
Press SPACE BAR to continue
Is this a sim? I wonder. Some kind of preparation course? Well, okay. And I am glad for seventh grade computer history class when Mrs. Goober insisted we learn the QWERTY keyboard.
I press the spacebar. It takes so long I think I’ve broken the machine.
But it’s just another prompt in the sim.
Matt has listed more supplies:
–plenty of food for the trip
–ammunition for your rifles
–spare parts for your wagon
I hit the spacebar again, which brings up a menu. I’m starting to worry. Matt’s General Store. Independence, Missouri. July 1, 1848. I have $800 to spend on oxen, food, clothing, ammunition, and spare parts.
Wait. 1848? That’s not possible. I don’t want to do anything that will hurt Grandpa, if he’s in this weird old sim. I have to get the novel that’s on this computer. I fight the urge to start randomly hitting buttons.
There’s a thump in the next room, like from something the size of a cat. I panic, quickly setting my relativity coordinator. It only takes a second, and then I press the Return button on my time machine. Too late. A man comes into the room, looking as startled as I feel. He holds a sandwich on a plate which he drops. He looks so young. In the family photos, he’s gray haired, but now it’s brown. I feel a pang in my heart. My grandfather died when I was two.
I have an urge to tell him about the heart attack he’ll have, but I don’t dare because it would be tactless.
“Wait!” he says. “Celia, wait. Please!” He’s scattering the equipment and papers on his table, looking for something.
I wonder what he means, and how he knows it’s me. Have I been here before, me or some alternate timestream version of me? I’m working out the Feynman diagram in my head as the room grows faint. I’m feeling faint.
And then I’m lying on damp grass. It’s dark. I’m afraid that I’ve landed in someone else’s future, that there’s another version of me already here, or I was never born, or that people never existed. My jeans are wet. I might catch a cold.
But I can hear the freeway. So people must exist. Then I remember the photo and check my pocket. It’s there, proof that I didn’t just dream this. I turn it over, marveling in the light of the overglow. On the back is written my mother’s name, Celeste, and the year. 1983.
I am so proud of myself. This is going to be the best science project ever.
It turns out my relativity coordinator still needs some work. I’ve landed not far from I–70, so I get a lift with a grizzly–looking trucker named Stanley. Maybe in this time period, hitchhiking is OK, but it’s not like I planned for this. I’m afraid to ask what year it is in case I’m right. I kinda want to have landed somewhere random.
Stanley is nice and just wants to know that I am being safe. I give him a lie about how I’m going to live with my grandfather. He buys us cherry pie just before Pittsburgh (he had his with a big slice of cheddar on top, ew). Then he drops me off with a buddy of his named Bug who’s going through Harrisburg. Bug talks all night about axles and weighing stations and cops who lie in wait. I piece together what year it is by the iPhone 12 on the dashboard. By sunrise I’m home in the ’burbs. He takes me right there.
“Thanks for the ride,” I say as I’m getting out of the truck.
“Right arm,” he says, or maybe he says, “Right on.” I’m not sure, so I salute.
I go in the back door, trying to be quiet. At least I’d had the sense to tell my parents I was staying over at my best friend Kelly’s house. I hope my cover story hasn’t been blown. Kelly would know to call me on my mobile, anyway. I check it, and the display shows a bunch of gobbledygook. I get scared, thinking this is evidence that I’ve landed in some other alternate reality, but when I restart it and it links up with the satellites, it tells me I’ve missed no calls.
My parents’ bedroom door is shut, and I can hear my mom snoring. Awesome. All of this, the nice truckers, the unsuspecting parents, should be proof that I’m in someone else’s future, but I decide it’s just beginner’s luck. I go to sleep with the picture of my mom under my pillow, and dream about penguins.
I don’t even mind when my mother wakes me up with her singing.
“Been spending most our lives/Living in a gangsta’s paradise,” she sings over the bangs and clangs she’s making in the kitchen. She likes oldies.
My bedside clock reads ten AM. That means I’ve slept for maybe three hours. I am so excited I don’t care. I change into pajamas and go downstairs. I can smell the pancakes.
Dad has gone golfing already. Everything is normal. Mom has burned the first batch. I can smell it, so I know it’s really her, not some weird demon reptile alternate version of her. She’s taking the second batch off the griddle when I enter the kitchen, and they’re a perfect golden brown.
I pour orange juice for both of us and we sit at the kitchen table. The window is open, letting in the soft morning sun.
“Did you come home early from Kelly’s?” Mom asks. She’s pulled her hair into a pony and I can see the gray streaks over her temples. I think my mom is the most beautiful woman in the world.
I nod. “I walked home when the sun came up.” Mom knows I don’t sleep well at other people’s houses.
“I thought I heard you come in. Does Kelly know?”
“She won’t be up yet, Mom. I’ve only done this like a million times.”
She gives me a Look, so I say, “Fine, I’ll txt her.”
“After breakfast, you will.”
My mom has this thing about mobiles at the table. So I put butter on my pancakes, and notice that mom has served me the good ones, from the second batch. Kept the burned ones for herself. I’m touched. She probably always does this and I’ve just never noticed. My time traveler’s eyes catch everything now.
“Did you ever read Grandpa’s novel, Mom?” I say it impulsively, and then I remember that I’ve never mentioned it to her before.
“What do you mean?” She’s pouring Maple Surple over her pancakes, more than she’d do if Dad were around, since he’d tell her that was too much sugar and why didn’t she have a nice bowl of bran cereal anyway.
I have to keep going. “You know, before the fire in 1983 that destroyed Grandpa’s computer. You were just a little kid then.” I fill my mouth with pancake.
My mom looks at me, fork in midair. “Honey, your grandfather never wrote a novel.” She sighs. “I swear, your imagination. Maybe you ought to write a novel.”
I’m surprised and relieved and a little disappointed. My mom can read me like a book and she has no idea where I was last night. I want to get out the picture of her goofy ’80s self. I want to tell someone about the truckers. But I can’t, not yet, not until I have Grandpa’s novel. I need proof.
Mom says, her mouth full, “Grandpa spent a lot of time farting around in his workroom and sometimes I’d hang out and play on his computer. He had some good games. There was one with bunnies, I think. Or maybe that was the Atari. You should be happy that your father wants to spend time with you.”
I resist the urge to tell her that my father only wants to share his hobbies, not mine. I get her to tell me about the games she remembers, but she doesn’t say anything about time travel in Oregon. After breakfast, I put the dishes into the atomizer.
“What’s gotten into you? You never help in the kitchen.” Mom says, but she’s smiling. She has the same smile now as when she was a kid.
I stick the photo of my mother to the wall over my desk, for inspiration, then think better of this idea and hide it in a drawer. I send Kelly a msg, top secret, saying I’m home.
“You have to tell me everything,” she msgs back.
“Later, I swear,” I tell her. I don’t want her to think I’m nuts. She’d never believe me about the trucker who ate pie with cheese.
That’s when I realize I’m in trouble. I want to look at the page of Grandpa’s novel. I check through yesterday’s pockets, then backpack that holds my time machine. Nothing. I have a sinking feeling that I’ve left it in the past. I check everything again, even looking under my pillow and in the sheets. The page is gone.
I get ready to make another trip. Then I remember the ancient Oregon sim Grandpa had been running and realize that I don’t have the faintest idea how to use an Apple II. I mean, I would hate to do something by mistake that would leave him stuck in time. Desperate, I call up an emulator, kicking myself for not thinking of this before. What a wretched OS.
The next problem becomes clear. Say I was able to find Grandpa’s novel, what did I think I was going to do with it? I definitely didn’t have the right hardware.
There was only one solution. I walked over to the Hard Drive Bargain shop (“We Bargain a Hard Drive”) to see my best old man friends. There’s an old lady at the counter holding what I think is a MacBook Pro.
“I just want my pictures of Floofie,” she’s saying. It takes a while for Mohammad to D/L her precious pet photos by jamming some network putty into the USB port and she looks like she’s about to kill him, but then suddenly she’s tearing up, smiling, looking into the middle distance. She must have the new retinaware. I’m jealous.
Once she’s gone, I get Mohammad to sell me a handful of putty. It’s cheaper to get it from the Hard Drive shop because they like me. They think I’m the future of computing.
“It’s for a school project,” I tell him. If the putty doesn’t work, I guess I could just take Grandpa’s whole computer, and bring it here. It would be mean, but at least I probably wouldn’t be trapping him by accident in ancient Oregon. Assuming that the guy who came into the room was really him and not some alternate future version of him trying to meet me.
I go home and mess around with the Apple II emulator some more. I glance over the list of programs, decide to run something. A name catches my eye.
I select it. It’s just a damn game.
I realize that what I wanted was for him to be a time traveler, too. I don’t want to be the only one.
I can’t concentrate all week at school. Mrs. Siegler, my homeroom teacher, asks me if I’m on drugs. Kelly still wants to know which boy’s house I spent the night at and how far I let him get. I have a time machine, I want to scream. Nobody understands me.
Worst of all, the science fair is coming up fast. I have nothing to show and I need proof. Also my Hawking and Feynman and Einstein books are all overdue at the library. The irony does not escape me.
I wait until Friday after dinner, so I’ll have the weekend to travel back. The science fair is Monday. I make sure I’ve packed water and food this time, and $800 in twenties and fifties so I won’t have to hitchhike again. My mom talks a lot about how money used to be worth more. $800 should be enough, right?
I’ve been playing with the relativity coordinator, trying to fix it, and it took me all week to realize that it’s not broken. It’s just analog. Like how my old watch (which I wear as a fashion statement) isn’t accurate to the second because it only has two hands. That’s why I landed two states away. Someone else might use this as a reason not to do it, but I have a science fair. There can be no excuses.
Everyone likes the multiple universe theory, the “anything that could happen, does” theory, where multiple time streams diverge from every second, from every butterfly wing flap. Universes within universes. There are lots of time streams and multiple pasts that lead to multiple futures.
But my newfound expertise has led me to question this. If I really did go back in time, which I fervently believe, and changed things, which I did by taking the picture and by Grandpa seeing me, why did I come back to the same exact boring present? This is my hypothesis: what if multiple pasts all led to the same present? I think of it like Bester’s Law, which says that a time traveler who tries to rewrite the past can only alter his or her past, not anyone else’s. My proof is that the present is still the same, even after I went back in time. Maybe this means that I can’t, by definition, change anything by going into the past –– but I brought back the photo, didn’t I? I should be able to bring back a doco.
I’m ready. Kelly expects a good story this time. I will bring her one. Literally.
I push the button on my time machine. I already have the network putty in my hand, ready to download. My relativity coordinator’s accuracy will get worse the longer I stay in the past, so I have to make it fast unless I want to end up in Indochina, or the ocean. So if I can’t get the doco quickly, I’ll steal the computer. Sorry, Grandpa, it’s the only way.
I press the button. My vision goes away like last time and I’m feeling faint.
The workroom smells the same, only the cologne is much stronger.
I’m not alone.
He speaks. “Celia. This time we’ll make it. Here.” There is something being shoved into my hands, a rough stack of paper. I can feel holes around the edges from a dot matrix printer. Just like the page I found in the left galosh. No way!
“Grandpa?” I ask, stunned. It’s too dark in the room to see, or my eyes still aren’t working. I’m holding the printout tight with one hand, reaching out into space with the other. I want to touch him. A warm hand envelops mine, squeezes. I feel a pressure on my backpack strap.
“I’ve set your relativity coordinator, Celia. Go, now!” the voice says, and there is such urgency in his voice that I hit the Return button, although I don’t know what he’s panicking about.
Then I’m in the woods. It’s still daylight, and I’m clutching a stack of dot–matrix paper, held together by an old binder clip. I weigh it in my hands and then clasp it to my chest.
I met my Grandpa. He held my hand.
The manuscript is heavy –– I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so much paper in one place before. The cover page says There And Back Again by Robert Stroud. It takes a long time to stop laughing; making Hobbit jokes to myself and feeling so relieved to have succeeded that I don’t care where I am. I feel sad that I didn’t get to spend more time with him.
I walk downhill (because it’s easiest) until I find a road. That’s what the Boy Scouts say to do, walk downhill. Probably not all boys are stupid.
A woman with a Kentucky–fried accent picks me up within a km or so, and I fear I’ve landed in the Deep South, but it turns out I’m only in Altoona, PA. I really want to be reading the novel, but to be polite I pretend to listen to Mary Anne’s lecture about young women hitchhiking while she drives me to the Hound station, which is where I would have gone if she hadn’t insisted on picking me up in the first place. I make obeisance so she knows her lecture got through, although really I’m just thinking about how much I miss my grandpa.
On the bus I sit next to a stinky guy whose blond hair is matted into a single gross dreadlock and even though I’m really obviously reading he talks to me anyway. He goes on about how he’s going to Oregon because the pot is really good there. He must think I’m older than I am. I don’t tell him that the bus is headed east and he needs to go west. I’m busy reading There And Back Again, which has math and physics and jokes and a lot of Celia, and I like it even though it’s missing the page that I had found in my room. I’m pretty sure I could type that one up by memory, anyway. Maybe my grandpa has it framed somewhere, to remember me.
I’m going to rock the science fair.
I arrive on Sunday morning and I’m tired so I take a cab from the Hound station. It’s my first time taking a cab and I think I’ll have to make up a story, but the guy doesn’t seem to mind that I’m young.
I send Kelly a txt once I’m home. She meets me on the corner, like I asked her to. I haven’t showered in two days, so she sits on the lid of the toilet while I shower and hands me a towel when I’m done. Kelly’s the first person that I tell. The first telling of a story is special, you don’t want to waste it. I don’t even have to show her the manuscript. She believes me, and she only laughs when I want her to.
After Kelly goes home that evening, I decide to show Mom and Dad my prize. They may as well see it before I rock the science fair tomorrow. I unzip my time machine––I made sure when I built it that there was space in the bag to bring back the manuscript. The bag feels strangely light. I look with my eyes and then with my hands.
There and Back Again is not there. Crap!
I tear my room apart. I look everywhere. It’s nowhere. When was the last time I saw it? On the bus. I thought I’d put it safely away in my time machine, but maybe I tucked it into the seat–back pocket? Crap. There’s not even enough time to go back into the past and get another copy. The science fair is tomorrow!
I call Greyhound and file a report, but that bus is probably on the Oregon Trail by now. Then I go find my parents, who are watching TV.
“Have you seen a manuscript on old dot–matrix printer paper?” I say, hoping that one of them came across it and moved it somewhere. “It’s really important for my science project.”
“What?” Dad says helpfully.
“What was it, hon?” Mom asks. “What did it say?”
I can’t stand it anymore. I tell them everything. Everything, about the time machine I made, and Grandpa’s novel, and Grandpa’s hand in mine for that one moment. Dad turns off the TV, and they both look at me. I talk fast and it still takes a long time, and I’m caught between being really proud of myself and feeling really upset that I’ve lost my proof. “It was about this thick,” I hold my fingers maybe four centimeters apart.
They give each other a look that might mean, You take this one.
“Is this why you were asking about Grandpa’s novel?” Mom says.
“Yes,” I say. “And now my science project is ruined because I left the manuscript on the bus.”
“Honey, your grandpa Robert never wrote a novel,” Dad says.
“Well, no.” But then Mom gets a funny look on her face. “But I do have a lot of his old papers in the garage. They were mostly drawings and equations as far as I can recall, and some dumb jokes about time travel.”
My heart literally leaps. Right into my throat, where it buzzes like a trapped bird. I’m jumping up and down with excitement. Maybe I can still salvage my project. “Can we find it?”
“Oh, Celia,” Mom says.
“I can do it myself if you tell me where to look,” I say. They know I won’t take no for an answer.
Two pitchers of iced tea later, the three of us have made a horrendous dusty mess. There are boxes and papers scattered around the garage, along with Grandpa’s inventions, wire and plastic that might be art by now.
“Eureka!” Mom says. She pulls a manila envelope from a file box. On it is written There And Back Again. “Oh, wait,” she says.
“You found it!” I say, grabbing it from her.
But the box is empty.
Mr. Snabord, our science teacher, takes a long time walking through the gym where the science fair is set up.
“Mr. Shuffleboard has got to pick yours,” Kelly says. We’ve already seen all of the projects, and gone back to our lockers, and come back to the gym again. Why do adults take so long?
“I have a time machine,” I say. I still feel proud, even if no one else understands. I went back in time, even if my proof disappeared. Maybe the pothead read it, anyway. I was so mad at myself for losing it, but then when I woke up today I was thinking about how I’d taken the novel from the past, so that’s why it wasn’t here in the present, in the garage where it should have been. So I decided that was my proof, the fact that it’s gone.
“I just wish you’d told me sooner, about the time machine,” Kelly says. “I have some things I’d like to go back and fix.” She eyes Colin Murray, on the other side of the gym. “My first kiss, for sure.”
Colin’s showing off his project, a cyclotron he made from an old wind–up music box. It smashes protons while playing “It’s A Small World.”
“It doesn’t work like that, sorry,” I sigh. Anyway, Colin’s kind of cute, I don’t know why she’s so embarrassed. I’ve explained everything to Kelly, a couple of times, about multiple pasts ending up in the same present. She always nods and asks questions that make me think she’s taking me seriously, then she says something dumb and self–centered.
Does all of this mean that everything is fated? That’s what I’ll write my dissertation on, I think. I should skip straight to college and dual major in physics and philosophy. If only I can convince them that I built a time machine.
Kelly and I waste some time looking at other projects. I’m impressed (though I won’t admit it) by the miniature pet dolphin swimming in a fish tank. Some stupid sophomore came up with it. His write–up is a direct–mail marketing campaign. Just add water. Kelly and I take pictures of ourselves with her project, a camera made from a shoebox with a pinprick hole in one end. Kelly’s isn’t the only lightbox camera, a senior girl made an Art Deco one that looks nicer. But I’d never say so. What’s cool about Kelly’s is that she’s rigged up a monitor to display the pictures. I lean closer. Is that a pimple on my cheek?
I look around the fair, hoping that someone has invented photo–editing software from some wires and a bucket like last year. No such luck. I delete the photos with me in them.
“You can’t do that,” Kelly says. I pretend not to hear her. I’m looking at some freshman’s poster about growing crystals from Borax solution. There are a few geodes in the display and I pick one up. The surface is rough and it smells like salt and copper. This little guy spent thousands of years underground, and this stupid freshman made these Borax crystals over a weekend. What’s time, anyway?
“Oh, shiznuggets, don’t look now.” Kelly pulls my sleeve, and I nearly drop the geode.
Mr. Shuffleboard is looking at my project.
Without the manuscript or the original page that I had left in the past, I only have the time machine itself, which looks like some kid knocked it together in an afternoon from spare parts. Plus I have my write–up, the envelope from the garage that says There And Back Again, and the photograph of my mother. Mr. Shuffleboard talks to his PDA. It sounds like he’s checking my math.
He takes a deep breath, and my heart soars. He’ll look up next, I know, and find me. I’ll know just by the way he will look at me, like the way the star–crossed lovers on TV look at each other the first time except not sexy ’cos that would be gross. But Mr. Shuffleboard gets me. He respects my work. He’ll understand what he’s just seen and what it means. It won’t matter that I don’t have the actual manuscript as proof because its disappearance is evidence. People will start recording me and I’ll be all over the net within five minutes. I straighten my hair with my hand.
Mr. Shuffleboard looks up, and we see each other, and he nods.
“Wish me luck,” I say to Kelly.
She’s looking at me. “Celia, what did you do to your hair?”
She’s just making fun of me because she’s jealous. I walk over, arms tight to my sides.
“Cecelia,” Mr. Shuffleboard says. He’s the only teacher who ever calls me by my full name. “Very ambitious project you have here. But if your idea about a self–correcting history is actually true, it would be impossible to bring objects back to our present.”
“So do I win?” I ask.
Mr. Shuffleboard purses his lips as if he’s trying not to laugh. “I still need to look at the rest of the fair.”
I look at my display, a little embarrassed. “But I brought back a photo, see?” I say. “And there was tape on it, and I know tape isn’t much evidence, but no one in my generation uses tape. Look.” I go to grab the photo to show him, but it’s stuck.
“Leggo,” I say to the nanoglue, and it lets go, and I take the photo of my mother from its display.
I’m astonished. The tape is gone, too.
The dumb freshman with the crystals wins the science fair. Nobody is happy, except for the freshman. I tell Kelly it will be the high point of his entire life.
My time machine project gets a “B.” It’s only that good because Shuffleboard liked my math. He wrote a note about how much he liked my math, but he was being kind and he knew it. The whole school thinks I made it up. That I didn’t even try. Worst of all, even Kelly laughed. I laughed too, like it was a big joke, but it hurt. In my heart I kept my truckers and the stupid pie with cheese. Who would make that up?
I vent at Mom and Dad that night over dinner, and show them the photo. “See? If I hadn’t traveled through time, how could I have gotten this picture?” I ask.
“That’s odd,” Mom says. Then she gets her old photo album from the closet. There’s a blank page where the picture fits exactly, as if someone had taken it out.
“I’m not saying you did it, pudding pop, but see?” Mom says. She puts her photo back in. “Stay,” she tells the nanoglue, and then she closes the book.
I am surprised and angry. But am I right? “This is just more proof,” I say, hoping it’s true. “Look, when I took it from the past, that changed where it was in the present. It’s just like the novel that I got from Grandpa. Because I took it, it wasn’t in the garage. You saw the cover page!”
Mom says, “You are so before your time, cupcake.”
Dad says, “How about we go out for ice cream? Sounds like you’ve had a pretty rocky road.”
They look at me, expectant. They’re trying to bribe me with food. I’m ready to tell them to get stuffed so I can go and sulk.
But it’s ice cream.
“I guess I could use a shake,” I say. Dad sticks out his hand, and we shake on it.
When we get back from Baskin Robbins, I put my time machine in the closet. Maybe it’s just my generation that thinks it needs to punish machines.
I sit down at my computer. I think about what happened in Grandpa’s novel, which I only read the one time on the bus, and I didn’t get to finish it. I’m still bummed that it’s gone.
But I know what happened. I could rewrite it. I wouldn’t get it all, but I could do it. I remember a lot of the dialogue, and the voice, and even some of the math.
I open a new doco, and write: There And Back Again, by Robert Stroud and Celia Bergendorfer. I write as much as I can remember, and then I write more.
At first, I thought I was going crazy. I still wonder if that’s so. Just in case, I’m keeping it to myself. My wife’d be on the phone to the booby home in a New York minute. They’re coming to take me away! You remember the song.
But I’m no dummy: I read science fiction, and I know a few things about physics. My granddaughter Celia has invented a time machine and is using it to visit me. Or rather, to rifle through my computer—sometimes I only know she’s been here by the bad decisions she’s made in Oregon Trail.
Celia leaves me pages from a story about a girl named Celia who invents a time machine to rescue her grandfather’s novel. She drops down the rabbit hole like Alice, and I have a feeling that this is the only way I’ll get to know her.
So I started this journal–of–sorts, structured around the pages she’s brought. In my lucid moments, I suppose I’m humoring myself. But I’ve spent so much time on it, I’m not sure anymore which bits I wrote and which Celia brought me. I wonder if it’s the same girl coming back, or a series of granddaughters from multiple time streams? Is she visiting only me or a bunch of versions of me? See Chapter Six for a full explanation.
I won’t pretend that I write fiction, so you can read the fiction as a shelter for my theories about time travel. As I describe in Chapter Two, our traveling through time at a rate of one second per second is, in a sense, a narrative device meant to explain our current sensory input in the context of our memories. If you look at a Feynman diagram, you can reverse the order of time by flipping the signs of the particles. What has happened and what will happen are just different points on the same chart. Just look at the diagrams—Chapter Three is composed entirely of diagrams. And Chapter Nine is anagrams, just so I don’t lose my sense of humor. Elvis = Lives. Time Traveler = Relative Term. A decimal point = I’m a dot in place. I’m sure Celia will like those.
I have to make jokes because I worry about my granddaughter. I hope she knows to counter for the rotation of the Earth (see Chapter Ten). Also, she once stole my computer and I had to set a little fire to convince my wife that the computer had been destroyed so I could buy another. These things cost ten grand!
It seems the only way to make her visits stop is to give her what she came for: this novel, which was neither created in her present nor, exactly, in mine. I’ve printed it out because I have no idea what hardware will look like in the 21st century. Every Celia will get a copy until these visits cease. THE END, I say.
(Editors’ Note: the Uncanny Podcast Episode 2 features “Celia and the Conservation of Entropy” read by Amelia Beamer, as well as Deborah Stanish’s audio interview with Beamer.)
© 2014 Amelia Beamer