Leon wandered through the desert, and looked down on a small primitive village, of the kind people lived in in a time centuries past, in the Bronze Age. Leon looked with confusion. He thought he had set his time machine to go to the future, but apparently he had set it incorrectly. However, he did not let this worry him. It was clear from his surroundings that he had gone to another time period, even if it wasn’t the one he wanted to visit. The time machine worked.
He looked around carefully to make sure there were no people around. Then, he reached into his bag and pulled out his cell phone. He pressed a button on it to start a voice recorder app.
“Dr. Leon Bell,” he said, “time travel log. The time machine works, though I appear to have traveled to the past by mistake, rather than the future. When I return, I will have to make sure this is just an accident on my part and not a glitch in the machine. I do not plan to explore very much, as my attire will likely be strange to the locals, and I am carrying modern technology that could contaminate the timeline. I packed for the future, not the past. I must get ready to…”
But while he was talking, he began to feel faint. His vision was quickly getting blurred, until he began to lose his balance and started to fall to the ground. As he fell, he saw an image of a young girl, wearing brown rags, approaching her. He momentarily thought of how her seeing him will contaminate the timeline, before everything went black.
The next thing he knew, he was lying down in a small wooden cabin. He concluded that his body had been disoriented by the time jump and passed out as a side effect. He looked around. He was lying in a mat on the ground, still dressed in his clothes. He realized his presence was contaminating the timeline, so he had to get out of there fast, to minimize the damage.
He looked around for his bag, only to notice it wasn’t in the cabin. He realized with horror that the people must have taken it.
Most of the items in his bag had not been invented yet. Their mere presence in this time period could seriously damage the timeline. He got up and ran outside. He had to get the bag back before it was too late.
He walked out into the village. Based on the construction of the houses, it was obviously a very poor, isolated village. But as he walked through the village, searching for the bag, he noticed that it was empty. Market stalls stood untended, and most of the houses were closed, with their windows blocked by tattered curtains.
He then saw two women run towards him. He quickly ducked behind the side of a building, afraid that being seen again would further damage the timeline.
“They’re at the square,” one of them said, as they ran.
He was momentarily confused as to why the woman spoke English. The language was not to come into existence for hundreds of years. Then, he remembered one of his other inventions, a personal translator, which he had in his ear. It was simply translating everything they said to English, and everything he said to their language.
Once they were out of sight, he emerged from his hiding place, and followed them curiously.
They led him to a large circular clearing, which appeared to be the town square. Whereas the rest of the town looked almost deserted, the town square was packed with people. He stood back and looked curiously.
“These devices the stranger carries,” one man said, “what are they?”
“Things from the future,” somebody else said.
“The future?” another asked.
“Apparently,” the second man said, “they discover time travel in the future. Maya overheard him talking into that small black thing that he said he was a time traveler.”
“Time travel,” the third man said, “how fascinating. What else does he have?”
Based on the peoples’ conversation, he realized they had already discovered who he was, and he didn’t think he could convince them that they were mistaken. The damage to the timeline would be catastrophic. He had to think of something to do, but what?
“Look,” a woman’s voice cried, “there he is!”
The crowd quickly turned back. They had noticed he was there, and the crowd was facing him. He didn’t know what they were going to do, but realized if he interacted with them any more, the damage would continue to grow.
He needed a plan to clean up this mess, but for now, he knew he had to get out of there, so he turned away from the alley and ran.
He ran as fast as he could through the streets of the village, never once turning back. He ran straight out of the village, and started to go through the desert.
Once he was out of the village, he paused to catch his breath. When he did so, he looked behind. The villagers were not following him. He then walked out into the desert, hoping he could find someplace he could lay low while trying to come up with a plan to fix the damage to the timeline.
He walked through the desert, slowly getting tired as he approached and began to climb a small hill. As he climbed the hill, he felt something in his ear. He then noticed the translation device he built was lying on the ground. It must have slipped out. When he reached down to grab it, he noticed that the device was broken, but not freshly broken. It hadn’t been working for a while.
“Then how can these people know English,” he asked himself.
As he pondered this, he looked over the top of the hill, and was completely surprised by what he saw.
At the bottom of the hill were the ruins of a city, and not an ancient city. The city was clearly one from his own time, but the buildings were in ruins, the streets were torn to gravel, the cars were all rusted and wrecked beyond repair, and there wasn’t a sign of life. He realized that he really had gone to the future.
At this point, he stopped moving. The holographic display of Leon and the ruined city froze.
“It was only recently that we discovered Dr. Leon Bell was not actually a visitor from the future, but rather, the past, from times before the calamity,” an elderly teacher said, standing in front of the holograms, looking out on a packed lecture hall, “but he still gave us hope.”
The audience listened intently.
“The devices the people of that village saw,” the teacher continued, “they believed they were from the future. That belief gave us hope to recover from the calamity. They told the other villages about it, and this hope helped us rebuild after the calamity. Any questions?”
One middle-aged man in the front row raised his hand.
“Yes,” the teacher said.
“What happened to him?” he asked.
“Nobody knows,” the teacher answered, “all records of him stop at this point. Some say that he returned to his own time, where his knowledge of the bleak future drove him to suicide. Others believe he traveled to an alternate reality, using his knowledge to prevent the calamity from happening. Some still believe he never returned to his own time, wandering the sands of the post-calamity world for the rest of his days, unsure of what to do. One thing’s for certain, though: he never realized how he saved the world.”
Author’s Notes (may contain spoilers):
I do so love time travel stories, but I especially love writing them, including ones that don’t stick with the well-known time travel story formulas, like this one or The Time Machine (read it here). I also threw in some post-apocalyptic Dystopia in this one, though I don’t really go into detail about exactly what the calamity is. It just wasn’t important for the story.
I actually came up with the idea of a time traveler thinking he traveled to one time period when he actually went to another a while back, but really struggled on how best to make it work; it’s a difficult mistake to make. The post-apocalyptic world seemed to be my best choice, as it can make the future look like the past. I also felt I should address the issue of the different languages with the translation device. Usually, I’d dismiss this as fridge logic, and not worry about it. But in this case, I was able to use the translation device to help with the big reveal.
And finally, we have the ending. I wanted to end the story in a different way, showing that Leon did have an impact on the timeline and address the question of his final fate. I originally wanted the teacher in the ending to be the young girl (Maya), who approached him when he passed out, but couldn’t really think of the best way to make this clear, as none of the villagers are ever really established as characters. Besides, doing this would imply the world was fixed much quicker than it should reasonably have taken.