September 21

H. G. Wells (b. 1866)

 

A strangely dressed visitor dismounts from the elaborate machine that has appeared in your living room.  The contraption looks like a barber’s chair that’s been welded onto a brass platform.  Multi-colored lights flash on a raised control panel, where a small embedded monitor displays today’s date and the current time.

Above the date and time, a “Destination:” label appears.

It strikes you as odd that the destination is a time, rather than a place.  But the machine itself, and the pilot, are equally odd, so you let that detail slide for the moment.

The visitor looks at you for a moment, then lifts his hand to the lower half of his face — where he’s strapped a plastic gas mask fashioned from a ridged soda bottle that’s been stuffed with wads of cotton.  “Thank God,” he says, removing the homemade mask.  “If you can breathe, so can I.”

Looking at him now, you realize the visitor’s strange outfit combines sections of a scuba suit and a medical intern’s scrubs.  Tight straps of electrical tape attempt to form airtight seals at the cuffs, connecting the uniform to large galoshes and latex dishwashing gloves.  The guy starts picking at the tape with the gloved fingers, but he’s having trouble getting a grip.

You wonder if you should assist him.  He contorts, like a man trying to squirm out of a straight-jacket.

Eventually, the man gives up.  “I’m Herbert,” he says, offering a gloved hand to shake.  “I was named after my father’s favorite science fiction writer.  Sorry about your coffee table.”

The referenced piece of furniture lay flattened beneath the bizarre machine that appeared in your home.  You notice your TV remote crushed by (for lack of a better word) the machine’s rear bumper.  A crumpled corner of today’s Sports section also sticks out from the wreckage.  If you’d been reading it when the machine appeared, you might have been crumpled, too.

Which is to say, you don’t feel bad for not accepting the guy’s hand.  Instead, in your firmest voice (and in imitation of an attendant at a mental hospital), you demand to know why he’s here in your apartment.

“I know this will be hard to believe, but I’m a time traveler.”  Herbert waves his hand awkwardly, as if trying to shake off the glove.  “I’m from your future.”

You don’t even need to say, “That’s ridiculous.”  But you do.

And then Herbert, this man of tape and latex, slips into an unexpected series of rational explanations.  He speaks with the language of fantasy stories, but there’s an internal consistency to his words.  And, reaching inside his time machine, he produces evidence to back up his wild claims.  Newspaper clippings that report terrible tragedies…and warn of worse to come.

“I admit that I’ve traveled back in time for selfish reasons,” Herbert says.  “I didn’t come here to alter what happened — our world’s future is doomed, no matter what.  I just wanted more time to live.  I thought, I could visit the past, and give myself a few more years of happiness, of breathing fresh air, before the apocalypse descended.”

Oh, no.  The poor guy had been starting to make sense, and you’d almost convinced yourself that he was some quirky, self-taught genius.  Now you realize he’s not so smart after all.  And an even more terrible realization hits you.

“Those newspaper clippings you’re showed me.”  You almost hate to break it to him.   “They’re from the future, yes.  But the year is the same.  The date on the front page is tomorrow.”