Letter from the Past
All’s well, I hope?
I arrived here in one piece, with no major injuries, and no hiccups to speak of.
In the first few minutes since my arrival, with the exception of an unpaid cab fare, three cigarette butts (tossed in the wind), and a period-appropriate meal (2 eggs, a quarter-gallon of coffee, “french-fries”, and hot, sweet bread, which will also go unpaid), I have contributed nothing to this period; stepped on no butterflies; done nothing that isn’t period-appropriate. I assume you still exist.
Since you are young and forgetful, and your mind would rather think about different things, I’m going to reiterate the reason for my trip and this correspondence. You will, hopefully, remember that the Tecko Brand Magic-Mailbox 3K, which is currently sitting in the window of your apartment, will send and receive letters to any time-frame so long as the address of the recipient is that of a Tecko Brand Magic-Mailbox 2.5K or newer. As I am currently in possession of their latest model Mailbox, this will not be a problem. I sincerely hope you will also remember to check your mail as frequently as possible. And, for the love of god Y, maintain. Maintain. Maintain a healthy correspondence with me. Write! Write often! I don’t know when I can return, so I will be relying on your letters for an explanation of current events, especially anything related to me.
Now, as for the reason for this trip, there are a few things that I shouldn’t have to remind you of. Shouldn’t being a word used to describe the best-case-scenario, it should come as no surprise to you, my young worst-case-scenario, that explaining everything from the beginning is a necessity.
I’ve come to this time, because my behavior has been mocked where you are. I’ve found history to be as alive as you and I, and I can’t stomach hours of reading history books when I could, with the crank of a lever, travel to the war of 1812, or watch the assassination of Lincoln, or see the erection of the Statue of Liberty. Those in the butterfly camp are under the impression that journeys of this nature will have severely adverse effects on the present, and I’m not totally disinclined to believe them. For that reason, I’ve traveled to as uneventful a time as any. Through all of the historical reading I could stomach, I’ve encountered nothing about this location, save for a few notes about it being fraught with political strife. Little else has been recorded about these past events, so I hope that my letters to you will illuminate a dark time in history. You, my worst-case-scenario, will be the second pair of eyes to see into this dark world of the past. With every creak of the Mailbox door, you will be opening a portal to untold wonders. Your true name, Y, will go down in history as the man on the other end of the telephone. You will be my Watson. You should be honored.
Thanks to legislation in your location, travel of this kind is highly illegal, due to the fact that the ramifications of said travel are, thus far, unknown. By “travel of this kind” I, obviously, mean travel to a time before time-travel. I assume, because of the strict nature of the regulations, and the ubiquity of surveillance, that officials will notice my absence almost immediately. Since our interactions were held entirely in secret, I’m sure that you will not be suspected as my accomplice.
I must, unfortunately, also remind you of the consequences of my being discovered in this location. As you should be well-aware (but are, more than likely, completely ignorant), the consequences of my discovery would be unspeakable torments. I would be placed in a simulation that slows my perception of a second down to one quadrillionth its speed. My life would drag on for an eternity, which is a nightmarish enough conception. In addition to this perceived eternity, for 10 seconds of every minute, I would be subjected to torment that would curdle the blood of those who penned the Bible and painted portraits of hell. Every pore of my skin would feel as though it was being stretched by sharp, fiery talons, to a size that you could drive a bus through. I would feel the sensation of millions of gallons of molten metal being poured into my train-sized pores. I would pray for death, but never have it. I would live that hell for the rest of my prolonged life, experiencing countless eternities, each punctuated by eternities of torment.
Unfortunately, should you be discovered as my accomplice, however unlikely I find that scenario, you would also be subjected to the same fate. I highly doubt that will happen. It’s a one in a hundred chance. Very unlikely.
Despite my being convinced that you will not be questioned, I cannot reveal my exact coordinates in our correspondence. I must protect myself. I can, however, tell you that I’ve left coordinates in the same place we held our furtive meetings, so that, if you find yourself in any danger, you can come to me. I’ve also left a tool that will assist you in calculating the time that has passed in my current location, so that this correspondence’s disappearance will not be necessary—if they are right about the butterflies, your arrival to the same location and time as mine would erase our correspondence from existence, and end the world that you came from. So, if you get in any trouble, you can use that calculator and, hopefully, come to me without any hiccups.
Now that I’ve given you the only reminder I think you’ll need to piece together the justification for my journey, I’ll tell you about my journey, and my arrival.
A mere four days after our last conversation, I still felt the hunger pangs for this age. I tried to satiate my hunger by rereading the lone surviving history of this century, but my longing for this time still gnawed at me. For those three days, the sight of my Tecko Brand Cuboid—the machine that brought me here—filled me with pain, which, I can only imagine, were much like withdraws from an addiction.
The first day, I walked into my apartment and went to the kitchen, where my Cuboid lives, to make myself dinner. I turned to look at the the Cuboid as I walked to the sink, as far away from it as I could be in my cramped kitchen. I tried not to think about the machine as I washed my hands and took a few freshly purchased red and green Bell Peppers out of my grocery bag. I turned my back to the machine as I cut the peppers into small strips, for my meal. During the few minutes I spent cutting vegetables for what was quickly developing into a vegetable stir-fry, I realized that my meal wouldn’t be complete without the addition of some Garlic and some seasoned chicken. I didn’t think anything of the short trip, and grabbed the garlic clove from a basket on the right side of the machine. I started to walk towards the fridge, which is on the left side of the machine, when, while crossing its path, I felt an immense weight. It seemed to hover over me, like a school bully who demanded my attention. I held a clove of garlic in my hand and looked up at the machine, paralyzed by the same fear that I would’ve felt had it been a school bully, ready to strike. I can only imagine that you will chuckle as you read this, but as though I were trying to jerk myself out of its tractor beam, I jumped to the left of the machine, garlic in hand, and grabbed the chicken. On my trip back to the sink, I walked farther away from the Cuboid, for fear of getting caught in it’s imposing gate. Still, as I crossed its path, I froze. Directly behind the machine, my window cast a light that was interrupted by it, and a shadow that was equally as imposing as the gray box was cast down the center of my circular kitchen table’s white top. The union of the shadow and light divided me down the middle, and I stared, slack-jawed, at the matte gray finish of the towering Cuboid. Frozen, and dumb, my hand lost grip of the garlic, and it rolled to my left. As soon as it hit the floor, I snapped out of my trance and jumped, again, out of the tractor-beam-like pull of the machine. I started to reach into the shadow, where the garlic had rolled, so that I could retrieve it, but I decided against it. The Chicken was already seasoned.
Turning my back, yet again, towards the machine, I returned to my dinner preparation and tried to put the thoughts of traveling to my current location out of my head. But, I could still see where the window’s light was cut off by the Cuboid’s shadow. The light was impeded so much that looking into the shadowy half of my kitchen felt like staring into the entrance of a cave. That mid-afternoon, I stared at the shadow cast on my kitchen table as I ate dinner, wishing I could answer the call from the cave; from this shadow cast by time. I was afraid of walking into the shadow, so, after finishing my dinner that night, I slept on my kitchen floor.
It seems almost as though I woke up in front of the machine. I say that because the pull of the shadow was the only thing interesting to me at this point. I kept my eyes glued to the matte gray finish, and stared at a mirrored reflection of myself that I could barely make out. I looked more like a multi-colored bunch of paint splotches in the eyes of someone with cataracts. Nevertheless, I still stared at the finish.
For the following 2 days, that’s all I could muster up the desire to do. I would, occasionally, stand to trace the seams of this beautiful Cuboid, but I never opened the box. I also didn’t eat, bathe, or waste time on trips to the bathroom. I was totally rapt by the machine.
I was finally drawn out of my dopey hypnosis by a ring, or a knock, or the tweeting of a bird—something that had surely happened at regular intervals in the two days since my trance had begun. For some reason, I was distracted by the noise, and walked into the light, away from the machine. Rather than sleep on my floor yet again, and knowing that the Cuboid gave off a slight glow once turned on, I decided to enter the machine, power it on, and leave the door opened, so that the glow would eliminate the distracting shadow. Without the machine’s dark imposition, I slept like a baby that night.
I slept like a baby who wakes up in the middle of the night, crying. I went to the kitchen to grab myself a strong drink. I sipped cheap whiskey and stared at the blinking lights.
Now, in the wee-hours of the morn, the lights from inside the machine illuminated a space not totally dissimilar from the space that was once drenched in darkness. Every sip made me feel warm, but every second I stared at the blinking lights of the Cuboid’s interior made me feel twice as warm. Before I knew what I was doing, I was stepping into the machine in my pajamas. I had, apparently, and fortunately hung a change of clothes on the inside of the box’s door, without thinking. Before I had time to second guess myself, I had already punched the coordinates I had thought of for so long into the machine, and, in a blink, I was in the here and then.
The first thing I saw, after opening the door, was a dumpster, busting at the seams with trash. On the lid of the dumpster, a half empty pack of cigarettes and a lighter were perched between the grooves. I stepped out of the machine and found myself in an alleyway, under a twinkling night sky. I turned to lock the Cuboid, grabbed the pack of cigarettes, and walked toward the opening of the alleyway. I watched cars of every make, model, shape, size and color speed past me on the sidewalk, totally rapt by my presence in the past.
The street—which was named Adams—was very empty that afternoon. Very little happened, and very little would happen, as I had already arranged to come to one of the smaller cities in the old U.S. I stared at this uneventful street and hailed a passing taxi, which brought me to the diner I’m currently sitting in. I’m very unsure of what to expect from my trip, but I look forward to hearing your response. There is much to see. I will wait, in this diner, for your return letter. From there, I will go to the nearest store to purchase a winning lottery ticket.
I look forward to reading your prompt response letter.