The schoolboy didn’t want to go to school. He stood on the busy train platform; his sullen face seeming to sink over his drooped shoulders, hunched back and clenched fists, which were planted deep in his trouser pockets. He let out a long regretful sigh whilst stealing a cautious look both left and right.
At 10.15am, he was the only boy in school uniform among the many commuters, and to him the badge of St Marys Comprehensive, neatly sewn onto his impeccably pressed blazer was a shining beacon, calling all truancy officers in need of a promotion to attention.
The schoolboy, or ‘Dorky Dick Cock Sucker Weed’, as he was affectionately known in school, was very intelligent, exceptionally so in fact, though his advanced IQ was not sufficient to prevent the beatings James Bower and his gang of Neanderthals had begun to administer over the past few days; they did have a limited collective command of the English language so it is possible they were attempting some form of primitive Morse code on his face. In any event he had decided enough was enough; he was not going back to that.
He wasn’t a truancy officer but he was interested in the schoolboy; so much in fact that he’d followed him from the quiet, suburban house in which he lived with his father, past the post office which Mary Forester the scantily dressed ninety-year-old widow visited every Monday morning – mainly to collect her pension and sweet talk the teller into an early bird lunch and a cheeky game of bingo – and right past a bus stop where around fifteen children waited, talking about whatever it was that popular school kids talked about.
They didn’t even notice the schoolboy as he walked past.
The schoolboy had noticed the elderly gent right away, the second he stepped outside his door in fact. It was hard not to; the man was ancient. He had more lines on his face than a map of the London underground and disturbing, wild, searching eyes. He had bushy thorn-like eyebrows too, with the odd stray hair reaching up to join with the straggled white Einstein mop that was stuck to his head. But more than all this, the man was staring directly at him, practically nose to nose as soon as he stepped out from his house and onto his front path.
After the initial shock, gasp of breath and the customary jump backward, where the schoolboy thumped the back of his head on his front door, he gently but decisively pushed past the old man and continued on and through the gate onto the main street. He didn’t turn back.
The man watched him walk away for a few seconds before deciding to give chase. Though the schoolboy was aware of the man’s pursuing presence, he was only a little concerned; Mr Elderly was as speedy as he appeared strong. Even if the guy did try anything he could surely take him on, might even do him good to beat on someone, considering his treatment at school lately.
On the Train
The train pulled into the station, a few commuters took a step back from the edge before it arrived. One gentleman, overly engrossed in the mornings Gazette, took an involuntary jump backward as his disgruntled wife snatched at his collar. She then proceeded to scold him. The schoolboy couldn’t work out what she was saying exactly, they were too far away but he supposed it was something like:
“What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing? Stand that close to the platform and you won’t be reading the news you’ll be in it. Put that paper down when I’m talking to you!”
The schoolboy chuckled to himself. His imagined conversation had worked out perfectly; no sooner had he fabricated the wife’s scold than the man folded the paper under his arm and rolled his eyes.
His laugh was rather short lived though. The paper had been shielding the inquisitive face of Mr Elderly, the man he’d encountered earlier, who was now staring directly at him again. The schoolboy had felt a little uneasy before, but now he was really worried. Who was this guy?
The doors opened and the schoolboy rushed on. The train was far too full to accommodate everyone; the stragglers would have to wait another twenty minutes for the next one. He took the only spare seat near the window and his eyes searched the platform, hoping Elderly was one of the unlucky passengers left standing. For a moment, he thought he saw him from behind, but it turned out to be an old lady reading a poster for the upcoming local elections. The train sped away before he could conduct a more rigorous exploration.
Fifteen minutes passed. He began to relax a little and stop looking up and down the aisle for his elderly stalker. He tilted his head and rested it on the glass of the window watching the blurred images of trees as the train raced past, it was strangely relaxing and almost hypnotic.
A hand gently placed on his shoulder snapped the trance and startled him.
Mr Elderly locked eyes with him and cracked a smile.
“Can I sit?”
Before the schoolboy was able to object, the teenager sitting next to him grunted, popped the iPod headphones from his ears and got up to walk to another part of the train to speak with his friends, leaving the seat free for Elderly to sit down.
“I tried to catch you at your house.” Elderly said.
“I know.” The schoolboy replied defensively “When I didn’t stop, you should have taken that as a hint.”
Much to the schoolboy’s disgust, the man’s resulting laugh turned into a coughing fit. He fished out a well-used kerchief from his jacket pocket, placed it over his mouth and spat out phlegm and a few dabs of blood. He examined the contents and sighed before folding the rag neatly and placing it back in his pocket.
The schoolboy turned his head and tried to hide his feelings of revulsion.
“It’s important that I speak with you” Elderly said.
“Why don’t you just…?”
“You should be at school today.” Elderly interrupted “Mr Boyer your science professor will be most disappointed.”
“So you are a truancy officer?”
“Work for the school then?”
Elderly let out a disparaging sigh.
“I’m you… from the future.”
The schoolboy paused, waiting for the punchline. There was no response, but the businessman sitting opposite looked across at him and shook his head.
This kid’s crazy.
“Don’t look at me like I’m a complete tool Mister.”
He signalled to Elderly, who was fishing around in his pocket. “He said it, not me!”
The businessman just shook his head again and buried himself in the Financial Times.
Snob, thought the schoolboy, then turned his attention back to Elderly who was reading the various advertisements which were plastered about the train. He became fixated on one for John Moreno, the underdog in the impending elections.
The schoolboy wasn’t old enough to vote, but that didn’t mean he was too young to have an opinion. He hated Moreno. He thought of him as an older version of James Bower. The politician was a filthy, rich fearmonger and not fit to breathe same air as decent people.
Elderly turned to face the schoolboy.
“He’s going to win you know.”
“Then everything changes. That’s why I’m here.”
“Look mister you’re beginning to creep me out a bit so…”
“We should really go somewhere more private.”
“Oh good, that’s less creepy!”
The schoolboy stood up as the train came to a halt, stepped over the old man and pushed through the crowds to get off. He didn’t know what station he was at and didn’t care. He just needed to be out of there.
The haunting image of elderly staring back at him through the window as the train pulled away was hard to shake off. He looked around. The sign on the platform read ‘Control District 452.’
“Well I’ve never been here before.” He said to himself, a little concerned.
“You’ll eventually live here.”
He spun around. Elderly was standing there, wiping his nose with his kerchief and staring at the sign.
“What the hell!?”
“Thought you didn’t like to swear.”
“You’re scaring me now. How did you…? Leave me alone. Please!”
The schoolboy ran from the station. He didn’t look back, sprinting as fast as he could, through never before visited streets and small wooded areas till exhaustion finally took its toll and he had to rest, propping himself up on a garden gate which led to a derelict house.
There was a sudden crack of thunder and rain spat down like tiny bullets.
Perfect. Can anything else go wrong?
He covered his head with his back pack.
“We should really get in out of the rain.”
Elderly inched past him and along the path which led to the front door which was hanging off its hinges and resting on the frame.
The schoolboy considered walking away, rather running, but what would be the point. Elderly was no Usain Bolt and he’d managed to stalk him quite successfully so far.
Reluctantly he followed him into the run-down house, carefully moving the door to one side rather than climb under it.
The front room made the schoolboy’s garden shed interior at home look like the Savoy Hotel. The walls were burned, charred and half moulding, the windows boarded up, and there in the centre of the room was Elderly, sitting on a wooden crate, pouring cold tea into two chipped china cups.
“Please, sit down, we have much to talk about.”
The schoolboy looked around but could see no seat, and if elderly had intended that he sit on the floor then… just no.
“I’ll stand, thanks.”
He was within dashing distance of the door should elderly try anything, so felt he could interrogate his apparent future self relatively safely.
“So what’s your name.”
Elderly took a sip of tea then grimaced as it went down. He was not a well man, that much was clear.
“Oh, the same as yours. Pleased to meet me.”
The schoolboy shook his head.
“I’m not stupid, whoever you are. What you are talking about is time travel, which is impossible by the way. Believe me I know; I’ve studied it for some time.”
“Just because you haven’t invented it yet doesn’t make it impossible.”
The schoolboy laughed.
“Oh I see, I invent it? Well aren’t I clever?”
“Well yes you are, with an IQ of 284, that has to put you on par with James Sidis. Or do you still prefer to call him Great Grandpop?”
“How do you know that? I’ve never told…”
“And you still haven’t.”
William James Sidis was a chid genius, turned mathematician and professor before ending up in a loony bin in back the 1920’s. He was deemed fit for society and released after the doctors in the sanatorium removed part of his frontal lobe and subjected him to countless hours of electric shock treatment.
“If time travel were possible we would have seen it by now.”
“Why? Once someone steps back in time they become part of established events. Generations that follow would never think to question the origins of their ancestors, especially when their minds are unable to process a concept as abstract as time travel, outside the fictional writings of H.G. Wells of course.”
“And then there’s this place. You’ve lived here your entire life. Looks rather different than when I saw you here this morning, don’t you think?”
The schoolboy gasped and stepped fully into the room. How had he not seen it before? Take away the layers of dirt, mould and degradation and this room was, in shape at least, a replica of his own front room at home.
He ran to the front entrance and into the street. This was his street, yet all the houses had suffered the same fate as his. It was as though someone had torched the entire area, then left it to rot.
The rain still fell, tiny pellets landing on him and the street like a collective exclamation mark.
He turned and slowly walked back into the house, the dark and dank interior didn’t feel like the welcome release from the continued downpour that one might expect, perhaps his solemn mood was making up for the literal lack of rain.
Elderly was sitting in the same place. There was no need now to give chase. He knew that the schoolboy would return.
He sighed, threw caution to the wind and sat on the floor, opposite Elderly.
“I can’t explain this… or you. I need proof that you’re me; then I need to know what the hell I’m doing here, and even what ‘here’ is!”
“What would convince you of who am, beyond what you have already experienced?”
“My mother’s maiden name?”
“My favourite food?”
“You don’t have one. You consider food to be a necessary waste of time.”
“My least favourite person?”
“Right now, ironically, me. But in general, James Bower the current school bully and the real reason you decided not to go in today.”
“You could be reading my mind.”
“Good, opening yourself up to possibilities that you would have disregarded as ridiculous before now. You’ll need that.”
The schoolboy had always scientifically denounced mindreading, at least to himself, as pure fantasy and explained the apparent skill of illusionists that claim to have this ability, as a natural affinity toward noticing tiny micro expressions of the face or tiny nuances in vocal pitch and body language. But that didn’t explain how Elderly was able to come up with specific names.
“Maybe I’m going mad.”
“Maybe you are, if that is the case then no amount of rational explanation would satisfy you, so you may as well listen.”
The schoolboy stayed silent and Elderly continued, first wiping his nose on his Kerchief then placing it back in his pocket.
“I don’t have long.” He raised his hand to stop any questions from the schoolboy.
“This is the only day that your normal behaviour changes, never again will you skip school and never again will I have the opportunity to talk to you like this. Come with me.”
He stood, knocking a teacup from the makeshift table to the ground and inched his way through the open doorway and into the street. The rain had stopped but the day was still darkened with the ever-present threat of night.
The schoolboy followed.
“It’s always like this now.” He took in a great lungful of stale air and coughed his guts out before going on.
“First came the unrest and the civil wars, then other countries stepped in to help restore law and order. This facilitated a much larger war; combined with technologically advanced weaponry the human race was relatively quickly wiped from the planet. Everyone and everything, dead.”
“You’re still here.” Said the schoolboy.
“I escaped; perhaps the only one who could. Time travel is my invention and my secret.” He glanced across at the dumfounded expression on the schoolboy’s face and laughed. “And it still is. I could only travel ahead in time. I came forward one year to find this wasteland.”
“Then you came back in time to me?”
“When I arrived here, to travel forward in time was just possible, but going back to a fixed point in time was still very much theoretical. I have been here six years turning theory into reality. Now I can go back and forth as I please, but as I said, and quite ironically, I don’t have much time. Continued exposure to this atmosphere and the new germs that the aftermath of the wars have spawned are taking their toll. I will more than likely be dead within a month, probably much sooner.”
The schoolboy felt a slight pang of remorse, which if Elderly was his future self could be seen as feeling sorry for himself, the thought occurred to him as he spoke.
“Don’t say that. Surely medical science has…”
Elderly shook his head.
“I have tried everything, except this.”
“I’m still relatively new at this time travel lark. The journey I took to come find you was the first time I’d ventured into the past. I’m hoping if you can change history, prevent the war. You won’t only save the lives of every living creature on this planet, but your own too. You would be forever in your own debt.”
“What can I do? I know nothing about politics.”
“Neither does he.”
“John Moreno, the man running for election in your time.”
“He’s not running for Prime minster, just to be MP for South Shields. To be honest he’s more of a joke, no one actually likes him.”
“He wins that election, then joins and takes over a failing radical party that promise change and jobs, together with a childish vision to make Britain Great once more, with no real plans of how to actually achieve it. Or what ‘Great’ actually means. They – the public – recognise the word and relate it to what great means to them.”
“Surely people would see through that. They won’t just make ‘anyone’ Prime Minister.”
“You give the masses too much credit. They want change. Then they see a guy on TV all the time being very outspoken, saying the things that they want to hear, all to quickly he stops being a man and becomes a brand, like Coca Cola or McDonalds, as such he can create any persona he wants. All too soon the very mention of his name instils in the masses that feeling of change that they have craved for so long. His many indiscretions are ignored; people only ever really see what they want to see.”
“But he’s a bully!”
“Yes. Imagine a bully with the muscle behind him to do whatever he likes. As soon as he rises to power he dissolves the democratic system and parliament, by which time those who could have done something before are too frightened, so they join with him. Better to be the right-hand of the Devil than in his path.”
“So what do you expect me to do?”
“What are you willing to do?”
“I’m just a kid. I can’t just go back and kill him.”
“If only it were that easy. Cut a branch, and another grows in its place. As a martyr his brand would be stronger than ever. You need to change people’s perspective. Show them that they have a voice, teach them how to use it, become an opposing brand for that which is right, force people to speak up and take action themselves instead of sitting meekly and allowing the outspoken few to control them.”
Elderly reached into his pocket.
“Here, take this.”
The schoolboy stepped back, half expecting him to pluck out his graveyard of a kerchief, instead he produced a shiny red metallic bracelet. And placed it into his hand.
“This is time travel, put it on, it is configured to our own biometric signature, meaning you and you alone have the power to move freely in the fourth dimension. There are side effects however, continued use reduces your own life span. There is no way around it unfortunately, it’s like rapid dramatic aging every time you use it. So be sparing.”
“How does it work?”
“Just think it. Go into a meditative state and focus on when you want to go. This device can only transport you in time not space, so you will arrive at the exact spot you are standing in in the future or the past.”
“What happens if I transport myself into the middle of a brick wall or an ocean or something?”
“Yes, don’t do that. I’m pretty sure the device will take you to the time closest to the one you selected that is safe for you to land.”
“You’re pretty sure!?”
“Well, as I said it hasn’t been road tested properly yet.”
The schoolboy fiddled with the bracelet, pondering his next move.
“If you really are me, then aren’t you changing your own history by me doing this? How do you know I’ll even complete this time travel bracelet? If I don’t, then none of this will ever have happened.”
The old man sighed.
“I have deliberated over that point for many years, ever since I made up my mind to come find myself in the past.”
The old man shrugged.
“I don’t know, we are the first. My best guess is that I’ve created an alternate time stream from the very moment we made contact and I transported you here. Whatever you do from this point will either eradicate everything I’ve done in my own life from now, or you will be operating from a completely new time line that runs in parallel with my own, which, considering we are having this discussion together right now seems the more likely.”
The schoolboy took a long reflective look around the dirty street and burnt out decaying houses, with no real clue as to how he, the most unpopular kid in school was going to save the world.
His older self smiled sympathetically, as though he knew exactly what was running through the schoolboy’s mind.
“The greatest of journeys start with a single step. Put on the bracelet.”
The schoolboy nodded, fixing the bracelet to his wrist.
“Follow the same breathing pattern you do when you want to focus on something or you want to block out John Bowers beatings. Your mind will enter that blank ‘free’ space. Once you are there focus on a particular time. The bracelet will do the rest.”
The schoolboy didn’t dispute his coping mechanism, instead, closed his eyes and began to concentrate. He was well practiced in this type of meditation.
Back at School
He didn’t expect to be walking the corridors of St Marys when he woke, but there he was, dazed and confused.
Christine Johnson, the school secretary had been standing in the school office waiting for the photocopier to stop being so temperamental, when she saw him stumble past the open doorway, like, as she would have put it – a drunk in search of his missing leprechaun.
She eased gently him onto the comfy swivel chair in the office and poured him a cup of water. His hands were shaking slightly, but he managed to take one or two sips before speaking.
“Wh… wh… where am I?”
“You’re in the school office. We were a little concerned when you didn’t show up for registration this morning.”
She took the plastic cup and placed it on the table, stroking the mop of sweaty hair from his eyes with her free hand.
“What happened to you, young man? Was this James Bower?”
“James Bower?” he muttered.
“It was, wasn’t it?
I thought so. I’ll let the head know.
Why can’t those stupid boys just leave you alone?”
“Prime minster.” The schoolboy suddenly shouted, as his earlier encounter with Elderly flooded his mind. “I need to stop him… I need to…”
The secretary smiled.
“Well let’s see if the head can sort James Bower out before taking the matter to the Prime Minster eh? Do you want to go home?”
The schoolboy shook his head. Slowly but surely, the clouds in his mind cleared and the dizziness began to subside.
He smiled at the secretary.
She was genuinely concerned for him.
For all the human race was destined to destroy itself, it had one saving grace and this was being amply demonstrated before his eyes right now.
He wondered if she would go home this evening and talk to her husband about the events of the day, how she had rescued him, but felt powerless to do anything, trusting those in charge to do the right thing.
“Thank you for your help.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to go home? I could sign the forms right now for you, give your dad a call. He could come in and…”
It was all she was able to do, a tiny gesture that meant so much, giving her a feeling like she was able to help.
“No, really I’m fine now.”
She nodded her head slowly and sighed, placing a hand on his shoulder.
“If you’re sure. I’ll let the head know you’re here and okay. Take as much time as you need to get to your next lesson.”
She handed him a time out slip, which she took from a drawer in the desk.
“This will stop any questions as to why you are late for class. Just give it to your teacher and go sit down.”
He stuffed the form into his pocket as she walked from the office, knocking on the head teacher’s door which was adjacent to the reception.”
Period three was a physics test. The class had already begun scribbling away on the answer sheet when he walked in the classroom.
Mr Boyer the physics professor didn’t really like the schoolboy, mainly because his knowledge of the subject was primary in comparison to the schoolboy’s understanding and application. He didn’t like to feel inferior, as such he tended to overlook taunts that other kids in the class would deliver on a regular basis, taking perhaps too much comfort from the schoolboy’s alienation and humiliation.
The schoolboy had grown used to being considered an outsider. On some level, he accepted that people would always feel threatened by that which they don’t understand.
When he walked in, Mr Boyer’s eyes beamed.
‘Mr Know it all’ is late. I can shout at him.
Opportunities don’t come around like this every day.
He was cheated however from his shining moment when the schoolboy handed him the time out slip and sat at his regular desk, which was out of the way and facing the window which over looked the football field.
He opened the question sheet and completed the test in 5 minutes, knowing with absolute certainty that he had 100% yet again. To him, these tests were pointless, like examining a degree student on their ABC’s.
He spent the remainder of the lesson thinking about Elderly and what he had to do. The thought occurred to him, at one point that it had all been a dream, a fabrication brought on by the social stress and pressure he’d been undergoing recently. A quick check to see if he was wearing the red bracelet on his wrist put pay to that forlorn hope. There it was, shiny and to his mind, otherworldly.
“You know the rules about wearing jewellery Mr know it all.”
The voice came from Mr. Boyer, who was sitting smugly behind his desk watching the schoolboy fiddle with his bracelet.
“The rule normally applies to girls. What are we to expect tomorrow, a nice pair or dangly earrings?”
The rest of the class laughed, and the schoolboy quickly pushed the bracelet further up his arm and under his blazer sleeve.
“How, Dorky Dick!”
James Bower had missed the schoolboy during morning break, which meant that in all probability he wanted to catch up with him and discuss philosophy, that or he wanted to beat him up and take his lunch money.
“What do you want James?”
Bower took him by the scruff of the neck and pushed him to the ground.
Guess it was option two after all.
“Got told off for beating you up this morning. Which I didn’t do. So just to make it fair I’m gonna do it now, then we’re all square.”
James Bower grinned at him, proudly displaying his crooked yellow teeth, before using his steel capped workman’s boots to kick him right in the gut, winding him instantly.
“If you’re gonna tell on me, dick, it may as well be something worth talking about.”
A crowd had started to gather around them, and Bower became further encouraged by the laughing jeers from his peers.
“Get him James.”
“Kick him in the head.”
“Ha ha, look he’s crying.”
There were tears coming from the schoolboy’s eyes, but he wasn’t crying, that was more an involuntary bodily response that he wished wouldn’t happen, it only escalated the noise from the crowd.
He was desperately trying to clear his mind and go to his happy place.
He briefly looked up, not everyone was laughing and mocking. Some seemed sympathetic, concerned even, perhaps wanting to say something or step in and stop the bully, but what could they do except shut up and pretend to go along with the crowd?
He closed his eyes, and tried to block out the noise and the physical pain that came along with the second and third kick.
He coughed and spluttered, desperately trying to control his breathing.
Part of his conversation with Elderly played out in his mind.
“I can’t just go back in time and kill him”
“Show them that they have a voice.”
“Become an opposing brand for that which is right.”
“Force people to speak up and take action themselves instead of sitting meekly and allowing the outspoken few to control them.”
The schoolboy opened his eyes, and to the complete astonishment of everyone, and none less than James Bower, he stumbled to his feet.
The crowd fell deadly silent.
It took a moment for the gnome like expression of shock on James Bowers face to fade.
“So weedy wants to fight, does he?”
His taunt facilitated a few sniggers from the crowd, but nothing compared to the barrage of hate that it had been before.
“I’m not going to fight you James.”
James laughed and tears began to stream down the schoolboy’s face. He knew it wasn’t in his nature to physically try and match James, besides, he could pulverise him; but that didn’t mean it was in his nature to give up, not any more. That was a learned response he was just going to have to un-learn.
He spoke though his tears.
“But neither am I going to run away. Every time you knock me to the ground I will get up, then you can hit me again, and again till you kill me, or break my bones. Then what? You can have my broken body, but not my obedience. No more!”
One girl started to clap and struggled to remember his name, then abruptly stopped when James looked around and snarled at her. He clenched his fist and swung it with all his mite landing the newly defiant schoolboy square on the nose. The comical Chaplin like way he fell backward and to the floor made the crowd explode once again with laughter.
James turned to his admiring public and bowed, joining in with the collective reverie.
The laughter stopped instantly however when the schoolboy, wounded and dazed stumbled to his feet and wiped his bloody, perhaps broken nose with his hand.
“Do it again James. I won’t stop you.”
James spun around.
“Are you fuckin crazy!?”
The schoolboy was bloody, bruised, crying his eyes out and finding it clearly incredibly painful to stand; but there he was, still not backing down.
James hit him again, knocking him to the ground once more. His head crashed on the pavement and he was out for the count.
There was no laughter this time, just silence. No one but James Bower dared move.
“Come on then!” He yelled.
“Mr brave dick weed!
Mr. I can stand up for myself!
Come on get up. I’ll knock you down again!”
The schoolboy couldn’t get up.
Michelle Ryan, the girl who had nearly clapped earlier stepped forward and knelt down, placing the schoolboy’s head on her knee, followed by one or two other students who wanted to make sure he wasn’t dead.
The brave and unconscious schoolboy, Dan Carnelli, who was lying on the floor had somehow won the support and respect of the crowd.
“Can someone go get the school nurse please?” Michelle said.
Two girls, Moly and Jessica, left the crowd and walked toward the school entrance.
The bully, for the first time was lost, in a land he’d never been before.
“What the fuck you all doing?
Get away from him before I…”
“Before you what?” Michelle challenged James.
“Before you hit me? Why not add beating on girls to what you do, you coward!”
“Leave him alone Bower!” The shout came from one of his former supporters in the crowd, and was quickly joined by others.
“Get outta here.”
“You can’t take us all on.”
Michelle mopped Dan’s brow.
I wish you could see this Daniel, she thought.