The time traveller’s dilemma

on the road photo
Lee Moffitt: On the road, early 1960’s

[A story inspired by two photos: one of my father’s and one of mine]

The problem with time travel, like with life, is that you don’t remember everything that happens to you. You come and go across time, but somehow you forget where or when you’ve been. Like finding a receipt for a shop you’ve never heard of in your coat pocket.

Fortunately, there are the traces of your travel that can help jar your memory. For me it’s always been photographs. At one point, I picked up a Leica II from 1938, figuring it would be less noticeable than, say a camera phone. Now I carry it everywhere and take photos of wherever I ended up.

on the road to petra photo
S L Moffitt: On the road to Petra, 2014

Most of the time, I enjoy opening the envelop of developed photos, seeing the evidence of my travels. Occasionally, I thumb through the prints with an increasing mixture of confusion and dread. People and places I have no reference for stare back at me. It’s as if someone had taken my camera when I wasn’t looking. The first time it happened, I tried to tell myself that was what happened. At the time, I was living in barracks with fifteen other men fighting forest fires in the west.

I was about to make a scene, demanding who had stolen my camera, when I looked at the photos again. Something was wrong with them. The one I didn’t remember was shot in a desert and I had spent the last months in the forests and mountains of the Colorado Rockies. As I looked closer, I also noticed that the pylons in the mystery photos were wrong. Then it struck me. They were from the 21st Century.

I racked my brains, trying to remember when I had last time travelled. I remembered jumping from 1979 back to 1963, which is where I was now four months ago. I had not been in the 21st Century for years, yet there was this photo on a roll of film that I had purchased in Denver just before we set out south toward Colorado Springs.

Digging though my duffel bag, I looked for any other sign of a jump, more in hope than anything. Normally, all I ever had were my photos and an occasional coin in a coat pocket that was out of time.

“You all right?”

I looked up to see George’s upside down face as he leaned off the top bunk.

“Yeah, I was looking for something I thought I had brought with me.”

He grunted and his head disappeared. “With this crew, I wouldn’t be surprised if something went missing. Don’t know where half this riff raff came from.”

Lieca II camera
Lieca II

I wasn’t paying attention to George’s grumbling, no one did normally, and I had other things on my mind. I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out how I had travelled in both time and space. Normally, a time jump leaves you in the same area you started, just in a different time. This is how I always had my camera. I would open my eyes, naked in a room or camp site with my clothes from that time near at hand, and my camera.

Somehow I had jumped, ended up in the future, went to a desert, took this photo and ended up back here again. If that is really what happened, it was the first time I had ever done that. Normally… if there is anything normal about time travelling… I went from one time to another, only circling back to a time after a number of jumps.

“Christ! It’s after 6!” George’s feet swung over my head and, with a grace that you wouldn’t expect from such a stocky bulldog of a man, landed on the floor next to me. He grabbed my arm. “Chow time, Buddy. Get a move on if you want any coffee.”

After breakfast, we were five miles up the trail from camp, cutting a fire break. On the other side of the ridge was the flatland leading down to Colorado Springs. The fire was only a couple of miles away, but I could start to feel the heat and smell the tang of ash. I had walked back along a narrow gully to where we had left our tools and water. The rest of the crew were somewhere up ahead, out of sight, but not of hearing. George was shouting instructions.

My vision got blurry and, suddenly, I wanted to throw up. Closing my eyes, I cursed. Here we go, I thought. Wonder when I will end up.

I opened my eyes to find myself on the floor of a cabin, naked and cold. It was night time. Struggling to my feet, I looked around. Very slowly, I realized I been sleep walking again. I groped my way back toward the bedroom. After a couple of efforts, I found the door frame and then the handle.

The bedroom was warm and dimly lit by the moon coming through the skylight.

“Jason?” a sleepy voice muttered.

“Yes dear.”

I heard a rustle of sheets and moved toward it until I found the edge of the bed. Crawling onto it, I could make out Tash’s form.

“Did you sleep walk again?”

I nodded and found my way under the covers. She started to snuggle up to me, but stopped and scuttled back with a yelp.

“My God, you are cold! How long have you been out?”

“I don’t know.”

She settled herself as close to me as she could without touching me. “You really need to see Doctor Goldfeldt about this. It’s the second time this has happened since we got back from vacation in Jordan.”

I told her I would and slowly drifted off to sleep, dreaming of an old Leica camera.

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