One Last Chance

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Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry.

A trio of men in white lab coats were talking earnestly with the president of the United States. Nearby, a man reclined in a chair surrounded by a clear glass wall. He was semi-conscious.

The scene was unfolding in an underground bunker below the White House. The country was in a state of chaos. The government was fighting two wars on different continents and was running out of money trying to maintain supplies for its beleaguered military. The economy was staggering, and sinking into an irreversible depression.

The world was at war. No continent was spared. Local, national, and international wars were being waged with no end in sight. Thus far no nukes were used, as all parties knew that it was an endgame move with little chance of survival for anyone.

That could change at any moment as China was becoming more unpredictable…threatening the US with a nuclear holocaust. It was during these desperate times that a secret government project was being developed; a time machine.

The lab, a mile beneath the White House, was so secret only the president, the vice president, and the Speaker of the House knew about it. The dozen scientists involved were all sworn to secrecy and were monitored by a special FBI unit created for the purpose as a backup. There were four people in the covert unit. Two men, and two women.

“We can’t wait any longer Mr. President,” the vice president said.

“Has this time machine been tested yet?” the president asked one of the scientists.

“Not with a human, sir,” the scientist admitted.

“With what then?” the president pushed.

“A monkey. A chimpanzee to be exact, sir,” said the scientist.

The president, who was a compassionate, but realistic man, asked, “Does Major Reed know this?”

“Yes, sir. He still volunteered.

“Why does he look so sleepy?” the vice president wondered.

“He’s on a little twilight to calm his nerves and relax him before the journey. We have to put him completely asleep when it’s time for him to travel. My colleagues and I believe that the sensory shocks that would come from being conscious might drive him crazy. We’ve calculated that he only needs to sleep for forty-two minutes during the time slippage and he’ll wake up in the year 2035,” the scientist assured him.

“Plenty of time to reverse some bad things,” another scientist spoke up.

“Does Major Reed have his hit list?” the President asked.

“All programmed into the mini-computer implanted in his skull,” the first scientist said.

“Would you like to say a few words to the major, sir?”

The president went up to the glass and looked at the major who was hooked up to various tubes leading into what looked like a round steel ball encased by clear digital components that blinked on and off rapidly. The chair he sat in was equipped with a safety harness and had an electronic keyboard that popped up in front of him when he hit a button on his arm rest.

“Good luck Major Reed” the president said into an intercom. “Your country will never forget what you’re doing here. Your service, and sacrifices, are beyond the call of duty. You are a true patriot.”

“Thank you, sir...” Reed responded. “An honor…” His head dipped down for a moment. It popped back up. “Sorry, sir…sleepy.”

“No problem major! Thank you!

He turned away and looked over at one of the scientists who was standing by a large control panel. By the look on his face he was ready to go. First he typed something into a master computer and they all watched Major Reed fall asleep.

A beeping sound in major Reed’s right ear woke him up. His eyes snapped open and he looked around the room. He was still encased behind thick glass and sitting in the chair. As he unbuckled his safety harness he noticed a pile of bones near the main computer panel.

After entering the code with the help of his personal computer, an opening appeared in the glass. He went over to the pile of bones and scrapes of clothing. He guessed it was one of the scientists. But what happened?

As per his instructions, he went over to a small closet and opened it. Inside was an assault rifle and automatic pistol, boxes of ammunition, a k-bar knife, a field First Aid kit, a canteen of water, and vacuum-sealed food packages. There were also a pair of jeans, underwear, a t-shirt, a heavy long-sleeve shirt, and black watch cap.

Following the program in his head, he opened a door that led to a long tunnel. Instead of going up the elevator and alerting authorities when he came out in the south lawn of the White House, he took the tunnel. It was big enough to stand upright in, and there were LED lights strung in the ceiling, casting an eerie glow on the concrete and steel walls.

The tunnel was ten miles long and came out in a wooded area of a community forest and park. As Major Reed walked along he couldn’t help think something was wrong. It was the bones. They didn’t add up.

Just ahead he could see a row of yellow lights and a stairway. It led up to a trap door. He took a deep breath and tapped out the code to unseal the door. A bright shaft of light blinded him as he crawled out. A foul stench hit his nostrils and his stomach heaved involuntarily.

“What the hell“, he grumbled.

As his eyes adjusted his jaw dropped in growing horror. The devastated landscape before him looked like a photo of Berlin in WWII after the allies reduced it to ruins. The bleak and rugged horizon in front of him looked endless.

There were no signs of life as he walked through the debris. He walked for two days without seeing a trace of life. Man, nor animal. The blazing sun burnt the wounded land and the remnants of a once great civilization.

Finally, Major Reed sat down on a pile of rubble. He realized what must have happened. His trip wasn’t successful, and this is what the planet would look like in the future. He went forward, instead of back in time. His sacrifice was in vain.

He looked at the bleak tortured landscape around him and sighed. He only had enough food and water for a week – if he stretched the water. There was nothing left to do but keep walking…hoping for one last chance.

As It Stands, like Alexander Pope once said, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”

Don’t Forget To Read The Fine Print

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1636 – south-western France

“Your first target will be released at sunrise on this open plain. There are rules to this game. One of the first, and foremost, is you have to count until 25 the moment you see your target, before going after him.”

“What other rules are there monsieur?” Demonte Thomas asked as he strung his bow.

You can’t go after your prey if he makes it through the forest and to the other side of the valley.”

“So many rules,” Chauncey Girard grumbled, “I hope there’s no rules against taking souvenirs, if you know what I mean.”

“No. You may dispatch of your prey as you see fit. After all, it’s one of the things you’re paying for. Just a reminder, you have to use bow and arrow, and one knife. Guns are forbidden.”

“We’re ready to play by the rules. After paying for transportation here from the Year 2018, the last thing we want is to have this hunt called off,” Avellino Lefevre said.

“One more thing,” the guide added, “Just a reminder. Our company cannot be held liable for whatever happens on these hunts. You all signed contracts to that effect. I hope you read them carefully.”

The three hunters assured their guide that they did.

“Why did you pick this time and place?” Demonte asked Girard who was testing the pull on his bow.

“Because of the novelty it presented,” he explained.

“Novelty?” Demonte asked.

“This is the year when French peasants who called themselves croquant’s (literally, “crunchers”) revolted against their masters. It’s an extremely bad time for the French nobility who found themselves scurrying around for their lives.”

“I don’t follow?” Avellino injected.

“Our guide mentioned an option for hunting nobility during his pitch for this place. I don’t know if you were listening closely, but this is a very rare hunting opportunity,” Girard said.

After the three men drew straws to see who would go first, Girard won the honor. The guide led them to a hunting lodge where they would spend the night.

The next morning.

As the sun struggled to break through the fog on the plain, Girard was taken to a spot where he was told to look for his prey who would be released in minutes. When he finally spotted a well-dressed brightly colored man whose clothes were torn and dirty, he raised the bow and starting counting to twenty-five.

Before he could send the arrow on its way however, the man disappeared into the thick fog. Irritated, Girard lowered his bow – it would have been a shot of about 50 yards – and cautiously headed towards where he last saw him.

The fog was slowly dissipating when he caught another glance of his prey. He was almost at the tree line. Girard knew it would be more difficult to get a good shot once in the forest, but welcomed the challenge. It was what he paid for, after all. He picked up his pace.

Girard was a seasoned hunter and tracker. His prey was a terrified nobleman who was use to a life of luxury.

When Girard inevitably caught up to him he was hiding behind a fallen tree. He’d dug his way in among the leaves and broken limbs and was out of breath and panting heavily.

“Pas!” he gasped in horror when he saw Girard.

It was still daylight when Girard returned carrying a bloody scalp and two ears in his leather hunting pouch.

His comrades toasted him at the lodge that night for a successful hunt.

The next morning.

Avellino paced back and forth eagerly looking for his prey as the sun climbed up into the sky. The plain was clear with a strong wind blowing through the wildflowers and tall grass.

He spotted movement out of the corner of his right eye. Seconds passed. Then he saw his prey. His colorful clothes made him an easy target. Avellino starting counting…one…two…three…” as his target ran full-out for the forest.

“Twenty-five!” he shouted while notching the arrow.

The man was almost to the tree line when he let the shaft go. It arched high in the sky and came down into the running man’s back! A couple of seconds went by before the man rose up from the ground, and resumed running!

Cursing, Avellino broke out into a full run towards the forest. If there was one thing that really irritated him, it was a sloppy kill. He prided himself on “clean” kills. He built a reputation on being a one-shot hunter.

It didn’t take long for him to find a blood trail. A drop here, and there, and soon he saw his prey. His was standing next to a tree, one arm leaning against it for support. He was panting heavily, trying to take a full breath of air when he saw Avellino.

There was no fear in his eyes. He stared at Avellino disapprovingly. The men’s eyes locked. Frozen in the moment.

The next morning.

Demonte had a hard time staying focused on the plain. He was wondering why Avellino didn’t come back from his hunt yesterday. Girard was on a two-day drunk and didn’t even miss Avellino at the lodge last night. The guide didn’t seem concerned.

Suddenly his prey popped up in the center of the plain. He made a perfect target with his bright gold chemise, broad white lace collar, and voluminous sleeves. His scarlet breeches contrasted sharply with the gold that now seemed to shine in the sun as he ran for the tree line.

Demonte took his time counting. He watched, fascinated with the bright colors and the pace the man was running at. He was loping along easily. Not running in a panic. His lizard/hunter brain took notice as he notched his arrow and let it fly.

At almost the same time, the man suddenly stopped running! He came to an abrupt halt and looked back at Demonte. The arrow flew over his head by a mere five yards, sinking safely into the grass. This quarry apparently knew something about archery and hunting.

Demonte ran towards the still standing figure. As he got closer the man turned and ran into the forest. Alarm bells were going off in Demonte’s head. He had a bad feeling this wasn’t going to be a one-sided hunt. He slowed down when he got to the tree line and cautiously stepped into the dense forest.

He decided to put the bow over his shoulder and pulled his hunting knife. As he passed a particularly large tree his quarry stepped out while swing a thick tree limb like a club! He caught Demonte on the side of his skull, bashing it in like a pumpkin!

The next day.

Girard woke up from his monumental drunk and packed his bag. It was time to meet up with the guide and to go home. When he arrived at the pre-arranged spot the guide was there waiting. His friends were nowhere to be seen.

“Where Is Avellino and Demonte?” he asked the guide.

“They won’t be leaving. Avellino no longer exists. He killed his own ancestor. The possibility of that happening was in the fine print that I asked if you all read. Whenever a hunter chooses to hunt in the country of their origin they take that chance.

“What about Demonte?” he asked meekly.

“He met up with another hunter from this time period. He was a nobleman known for his passion to hunt. This possibility was also mentioned in your contract. You hunters are always so eager to get on with things you don’t read the fine print. Or else, you do and don’t care.”

“I’m ready to go home now,” an unnerved Girard said.

As It Stands, it’s always that fine print that catches you.

The Cuckoo Went Tick Tock

Jake was running for his life! His chest and face were splattered with fresh blood. Behind him he could hear dogs baying like lost souls. He was heading straight for the swamp when someone fired a shot!

The cuckoo went tick tock.

Jake was playing chess with Bobby Fischer, the American grandmaster who was also constantly paranoid that someone was after him. To his amazement, he had Bobby in a bad position.

The temperamental Fisher suddenly overturned the board and stomped out of the gallery. Jake looked up at the judges…waiting for their decision.

The cuckoo went tick tock.

The time machine appeared in the middle of a grassy meadow where he’d been sleeping. Jake’s joy at seeing it again was short-lived. For the hundredth time he regretted taking the damn cuckoo clock when he transported to Germany on his maiden voyage.

He ignored the warnings of the clock maker who said it was cursed. He watched the time machine disappear and then…

The cuckoo went tick tock.

The whistle blew; “Over the top!” the sergeant shouted as he led the way out of the muddy trench. He was met with a withering fire that was cutting men down like sheaves of wheat.

Jake looked at his M-1 carbine with bayonet attached, and waited for the next whistle. When it came, the second wave of Americans charged out bravely. Jake stumbled along until he heard someone scream, “Gas!

He dropped to his knees and fumbled around, putting his gas mask on just as the deadly chemical cloud came his way with the wind. Some men who weren’t as fast as he was, and they rolled about on the muddy ground in agony. A bombshell burst overheard…

The cuckoo went tick tock.

The dark clouds gathered menacingly over the gallows. Three ropes. Three men. A small crowd had gathered despite the weather which threatened a deluge. Jake was standing nearby watching from a small platform.

After the priest read the doomed men their last rites, the crowd turned to Jake expectedly. He could feel their eyes urging him to give the signal. He didn’t want to send the poor sodden souls to their maker, but it was his job as mayor.

There was a loud crack of thunder, and as Jake gave the signal, lightning lashed the sky and carried their souls to eternity.

The cuckoo went tick tock. 

It was a hot muggy day in Dallas as Jake, who was part of the Secret Service detail that  ran alongside President Kennedy’s car, heard the shot and turned in time to see the back of Kennedy’s head explode!

Chaos broke out! Jake looked frantically around for the shooter and saw a silver flash in a grassy knoll nearby. The people who came to see the president were screaming and crying.

Jake looked over and one of his team pointed at a building. He started off in that direction…

The cuckoo went tick tock.

When Jake heard the cry for help he stood up on the lifeguard platform and checked to see where it was coming from. He spotted a young girl who was actively drowning past the breakers and towards the open sea.

Grabbing a small red paddle board he ran out to rescue her. Within minutes he was beside her and she was holding on to the paddle board. As he got ready to help her back to the beach he saw a large fin break the water nearby!

The cuckoo went tick tock.

He was closing in on the lead car and Jake was about to catch it when another car hit him from behind! He spun across the track, slammed into the wall, and came to rest in the inside lane.

His crew was running towards him shouting. Jake took off his helmet and tried to get out of the car, but was stuck! Two crew members cut him loose and pulled him out just as the car broke out into flames!

The announcer was calling for medical help as Jake and the two crew members all rolled on the ground trying to extinguish their burning clothes.

The cuckoo went tick tock.

The men in the white coats didn’t understand. Jack wasn’t crazy. He didn’t belong here. He told them he had a cuckoo clock in his time machine, and it somehow messed up his calculations and kept disappearing and transporting him to other places.

The men in the white coats nodded solemnly and escorted him to his bed. Jake was stuck. At least for now. When the clock struck another hour, he would be unwillingly transported to a different moment of time.

Time was against him until that damn cuckoo clock died! It was an 8-day movement that needed to be rewound after a week. He was barely through the cycle, having suffered 26 trips/hours in time thus far.

He had 186 more hours to go!

The cuckoo went tick tock.

As It Stands, we all have a limited amount of time in this world.

Time out of Time

Something went terribly wrong with Dr. Vincent Van Buren’s time machine.

The first time he used it, in 2018, everything went well. He took a quick visit to North Kingstown, Rhode Island in 1950, the year he was born, and returned in the allotted ten minutes to San Diego, California.

There wasn’t much room in the time machine. It was basically a round ball with a seat inside and three collapsible legs to stand on outside.

Van Buren was a genius. All the technology he used was far in advance of anyone else in 2018.

World scientists were aware of some of his work, but the majority thought he was a well-educated eccentric with delusions. His papers on time travel were jeered by his colleagues.

He never let the naysayers get him down. He prepared all of his life for this moment…when he would become a time traveler. That time was now as he readied himself for his next visit to the past.

He wore a black jumpsuit that had pockets in front, down the sides, and in back. In them he carried things like a compass, a pocket knife, length of rope, dried meals, nutrition bars, first aid supplies, a magnifying glass, and an extra battery for the taser gun he wore on a utility belt.

When he sat down inside he had just enough room to put two canteens of water between his feet. All the controls were within his reach. There was a small monitor that was hooked up to a camera on top of the time machine, providing a panoramic look outside.

This time he set the controls for ancient Egypt’s Old Kingdom period (2686-2181 BC). He chose the Great Sphinx of Giza for his destination point.

Then he was there.

The time machine was just a few feet away from the enormous Sphinx as he looked at the monitor. It was night, but a full moon lit the desert landscape as Van Buren pushed a button and the hatch door opened.

The interior lights profiled him as he stepped out in time for two Egyptian traders to see him. He could hear shrieks of terror as they urged their camels on to greater speeds!

“They either think I was a god, or someone really evil,” he thought while walking over to the base of the Sphinx. His studies told him that it was located on the west bank of the Nile, near Cairo, and that the sphinx was believed to be the pharaoh Khafra.

Van Buren marveled at the traditional blue and gold horizontal bands on the nemes headdress. The body was red. The face was yellow, a traditional color for men in ancient Egypt.

The Sphinx’s black beard was striking. In Van Buren’s time archeologists had just recently discovered the broken-off beard buried in the sand.

He lost track of time while walking around the Sphinx, but his wristwatch beeped, reminding him that it was time to get back. A few minutes later he settled in and waited for the auto pilot to take over.

He was still waiting an hour later!

Something was horribly wrong!

He tried not to panic. It wouldn’t help anything. He pulled out an emergency tool kit and started to dismantle the main panel when there was a bright flash and he was thrown back in his seat!

The sphinx was gone. He could see a primordial jungle outside. Then he saw a sight that made his blood run cold! A Tyrannosaurus rex was chasing a smaller dinosaur and they were coming his way!

In his moment of terror, a part of Van Buren’s brain recalled that it must be the Late Cretaceous period in what was in his time, North America. One of the dinosaurs slammed into the time machine and sent it spinning down a slope!

The Tyrannosaurus rex let out a roar of victory when it caught the smaller animal. For the first time in his life, Van Buren thought about death. He suspected he was close to it right now. He watched through the monitor – the camera was still miraculously working – and saw the bipedal carnivore rip his meal apart.

The stabilizers were still working or he would be in an even more awkward position. Suddenly the curious carnivore saw the time machine. It started moving in his direction when…there was a flash, and he was somewhere else!

It was raining outside and he couldn’t make anything out. His heart was still beating fast and he felt faint. He reached into one of his pockets and pulled out a nutrition bar. As he chewed on it he tried to organize his thoughts.

He was afraid of stepping outside in case the time machine decided to move on. Why it was happening mystified him. Then it happened again.

This time he saw sunshine.

He was in the middle of a field of wheat. He looked at the monitor and idly wondered where he was now. He was as startled as the man who stepped into view swinging a sickle!

He stopped and warily moved towards the time machine. He was divided between curiosity and fear while looking at the camera. Van Buren guessed he was a European peasant from his clothing, pock marks on his face, and blackened teeth. The antique sickle fit with his guess.

“Sacrebleu!” the man cried out in surprise.

Then, in a flash, he was gone!

When Van Buren was able to focus his eyes again on the monitor all he could see was snow. The time machine was sitting in an arctic tundra with no civilization in sight. He was glad that the climate control inside was still working.

Hours passed this time. He quit looking at the monitor. There was nothing to see but whiteness. He wondered if this was finally it? He couldn’t get the controls to work properly, and he was at the machine’s mercy.

Exhausted, he nodded off. 

When he woke up he was in his laboratory! He immediately pushed the button to open the hatch and crawled out. His legs were numb from sitting. His elation at this turn of events was short-lived however, as the time machine disappeared again!

All of his work was gone! Who would believe him now? A sense of despair gripped him and he slunk into a depression. Family and friends couldn’t get him to leave his lab for anything.

After a while they all gave up. The courts said he wasn’t crazy and he could do what he wanted. All Van Buren wanted, was for his time machine to return again someday! He’d be there waiting.

As It Stands, time travel can be a tricky thing.