The sun had come and gone across the orange sky 387 times since Papa had disappeared into the water. It had come and gone 120 times since the day his brother Roger had left to find others. It had come and gone 3 times since he’d last caught a fish from their small pond. Papa took care of the fish and made sure they multiplied. Jacob had tried his best to do the same but something had gone wrong. The fish no longer multiplied. He worried they might not last until Roger returned. Jacob hoped Roger would return.
Thankfully he wasn’t completely alone. There was always his buddy Parker, the boy who lived in his head. But even he was being mighty quiet lately.
Jacob stood almost waste deep in the pond, spear in hand, waiting. Nothing moved below. After a while still as a statue, he gave up and returned to the shore. Perhaps he’d try again tomorrow. He was hungry, but for today a potato from the field would have to suffice. Jacob filled a bucket of water before setting off to the garden to fetch said potato. The sun had come and gone 20 times since the last time it’d rained. Thankfully his father hand been mindful to grow their garden only a few hundred feet from the pond. Jacob watered it daily using the bucket. It could take as many as forty trips with the bucket to hydrate the entire garden. That was before he’d managed to kill everything other than potatoes. Now six to seven buckets were enough. But he was increasing his potato output daily.
There were few luxuries on their small farm. This didn’t matter because most of the days were filled with work. And now that Papa and Roger were gone the work for Jacob had only increased. Apparently survival takes a lot of effort when you’re on your own.
Their tiny four room house overlooked a single barn, the garden, the bee farm, and the pond. The only animals on their farm were goats and bees. Within the house there were four rooms; the main room, Papa’s room, his and Roger’s room, and the library. Jacob spent most of his time in the evenings, sitting in the library reading by the candle light. Candles were the primary reason Papa had started the bee farm, although the honey produced was certainly a bonus.
That night however, after his potato dinner, Jacob didn’t feel much like reading. His mind had become overwhelmed by the possibility his brother would not return. Roger could be so stubborn. Why did he believe there were still others? None of them including Papa had seen or known another person outside of their family for close to 5000 sun rotations. Roger seemed certain there were more. It was obvious that at some point in the past many more lived nearby. They’d left massive ruins. Some were as close as just a few stretches down the road from the farm. But the people were long gone.
The nights had become cold and Jacob built a fire in the pit they maintained overlooking the pond. He watched the sun set, hardly bothering to move. As the light from the sun completely faded, the sky became clear with what had to be millions of stars. As he named off constellations in his head something peculiar started happening. The sun started rising from the very spot it had just descended. Within moments it was daylight again, as if time had reversed. Then a boom! It was the loudest sound Jacob had ever experienced, and with it came a bright glow, materializing in a moment right over the middle of the pond. From the glow a large round object fell and plunged into the water.
Jacob launched to his feet. “What was that!”
“Something crazy!” Parker responded from somewhere in Jacob’s head. After first fully sinking, the top of the large sphere quickly remerged from the water. “Hey it’s floating!“
Jacob ignored his friend in his head and walked down to the edge of the pond. The ball continued to bob up and down from the initial inertia of it’s impact with the water. Then it slowly started to turn until what appeared to be a small black door rotated out of the water and swung open.
“You should probably run.” said Parker.
“I should probably run“, Jacob silently agreed.
But he didn’t. Jacob remained still and watched as half of a man emerged from the top.
“Boy!” The man yelled, waving his arms. “Can you throw me a rope? Wasn’t really expecting to land in water.”
“I don’t think we should help this guy.” Parker told him.
“I’ve never seen another man. I’m going to go get a rope.”
Jacob walked to the barn as Parker protested.
“He just fell out of the sky! He could be an alien, or some evil spirit sent here to drag us to the underworld.“
“It’ll be fine. Besides, maybe he knows how to keep the fish from dying.“
The man was still sticking out of the top of the sphere when Jacob returned with the rope.
“Great!” The man yelled. “Now just tie a rock to the end and toss it over! Like a baseball.”
“Whats a baseball?” Jacob surprised himself by responding. The man mimed an overthrown pitch back.
Jacob quickly tied a rock and tossed it, missing the first three tries. On the fourth the rock barely missed the man’s head but he managed to grab the rope. As they both pulled on opposite ends the large sphere easily floated towards Jacob. Just before it reached the edge Jacob stoped.
“Wait!” He said to the man who was not close enough to hear without yelling, but not close enough to jump off without getting wet. “Where did you come from?”
“I understand that this is probably a little strange. Frankly, I’m just excited you speak english. Especially given that the sky is orange.” The man said that last part while looking at the sky and sounding genuinely surprised. “I didn’t know what to expect. But I promise I probably have as many questions for you as you do for me. But perhaps we can get aquatinted once I get off this ball. “
It was a long response to have pretty much no answer. But still, there was something Jacob trusted about this man so he pulled the sphere the final few feet to shore. Once on land Jacob stepped even closer to look at the stranger’s attire. He was wearing the whitest shirt and pants Jacob had ever seen. He had to wash them at least once a week. Jacob had seen outfits similar to this in some of the picture books in his library. Most of those books were 200+ years old and falling apart.
“How old are you? About 14? Are your parents around?”
“Papa died in the water.” Jacob pointed at the pond but didn’t elaborate any further and the man didn’t ask. “I didn’t know my mom.”
“Well, can you take me to the closest adult? I have an agenda I’d really like to stick with, so the sooner I can talk to someone the better.”
“There’s no one else. Brother left 120 sun rotations ago and it’s just me now.”
The man put his hands on his hips and turned to look around, seeming more out of place now than he had when he first popped out of the sphere.
“You never told me where you came from?” Jacob asked again. “Do you know how to multiply the fish?”
The man laughed to himself and smiled. “To be honest, I don’t know much about fish. Do you know how many years it’s been since people occupied those buildings over there?”
“Yes, as in how many times the earth has gone around the sun?”
“My papa told me the the sun has come and gone around two hundred thousand times since man lived in any of those towers. They aren’t safe.”
“You mean two hundred thousand days?”
“I guess. Papa told me that a full day for the ancients was 24 hrs, which was how long it took to sun to come, go and come back again. It’s in my books also. But it now takes the sun much longer. Papa said it’s about 50 hours. But we’ve never had a clock.”
“You mean to tell me earth is spinning slower?”
Jacob just stared back at him not really understanding the question or the man’s surprise.
“Nevermind.” The man replied as he was obviously doing some calculations in his head. “That just can’t be. That would be close to 1000 years. Those towers have just been sitting there rotting for 1000 years?”
“They fall sometimes. A couple of them collapsed last year. We don’t go near them.”
“Absolutely fascinating.” the man responded, still staring off at the towers in the distance. “So there’s really no one else around?”
“Nope. My brother left to try and find more people. But he hasn’t come back. So I’m guessing they’re either really far away or something happened to him.”
“Sorry to hear that. That’s gotta be hard.” The man sounded sincere. Maybe Parker was wrong about this guy. But how had he just appeared? Jacob had never seen anything like it. And how long was he going to be here?
“How did you just fall out of the light?” Jacob asked.
The man hesitated for a moment. “You see that ball I came out of? That’s a time machine. I actually set it to deliver me much farther back in time. I’m not sure how I ended up here.”
If the man was telling the truth then it was the craziest thing that had ever happened in Jacob’s little world. But he couldn’t think of a reason to disbelieve him. The ball, or time machine, had just fallen out of the sky just a few feet above the water.
“My name’s Farley by the way.” The man stuck his hand. Jacob just stared at it.
The man pulled his hand back. “Well Jacob, I might need your help in a bit getting my machine out of the water. But if you don’t mind, I’d like to stretch my legs. Maybe take a walk and have a look around? That ok?”
Jacob nodded. He didn’t see the harm in letting this Farley guy look around. Truth be told the man could have asked him for anything and he’d have obliged. The shock of meeting another human other than his brother and father had not worn off. Which is also the reason he followed the man.
First Farley checked out the main house. Jacob showed him in and gave a somewhat informal tour. The man seemed impressed with how clean and tidy the place was, and Jacob explained that he was trying to keep things as his father liked them. Farley seemed particularly interested in the library. Jacob told him most of the books were from the past one hundred years or so, with the most recent still being over fifty years old. The man asked if any of the books explained where all of the people had gone, but Jacob told him they didn’t.
Next the man checked out the barn, then the garden, the goats and at last the pond again. Jacob explained the setup with the pond and garden and the importance of the daily watering.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to spend a few days here. It’s going to take a little time for me to get my time machine back into condition. And the people back from my time would be fascinated to know more about this place. Especially if I could figure out what happened to all of the people.”
This interaction was already a little overwhelming for Jacob. But he couldn’t imagine protesting Farley staying. He did need help with the fish, but beyond that the company of another human was also much needed.
The afternoon passed quickly. Jacob and Farley extracted the time machine from the pond by Farley wading waste deep on the backside of the pod and pushing while Jacob stayed on the front and somewhat guided the large ball onto the shore. Once on the shore, Farley leveled the door with the ground, reached in, and tapped a button somewhere on a panel just inside the door. With that tap the machine leveled itself and to Jacob’s amazement auto balanced. Despite being a large ball, it could now be entered and exited without the slightest movement.
Jacob had been eager to see the inside. As he rushed to the door Farley put his hand out.
“Whoa skippy. That’s not a playroom. The slightest miss-adjustment to the controls can create a lot of problems. I wouldn’t want my head to end up in one time and my feet another.”
Jacob honored the rules, not wanting to be responsible for such horror. Barely sticking his head in he scoped out the elaborate control room. Farley wasn’t joking. The controls appeared complex and there were a lot of them.
Farley stepped past him and sat down in the large leather captain’s chair, positioned dead center of the sphere. “The the battery appears close to dead. That’s pretty normal though after a long leap.”
“We don’t have electricity yet.”
“Yeah, dad was working on it when he disappeared. He had some secret project he needed it for. He’d become pretty obsessed with it.”
“I didn’t see anything like that in the house.”
Jacob laughed. “That’d be kinda silly. A solar field won’t fit in the house. Besides, I didn’t show you dad’s shop. It’s down the road. He put it way down there just because he said that every once in a while he liked to have a least a little privacy.”
“Well then down the road we go!”
Jacob’s dad’s workshop was a ramshackle one-story two room shack. As they approached it, junk increasingly littered the road. Spools of wire, scrap metal, various electrical equipment and miscellaneous do-dads cluttered the ground on both sides of the path.
“Your dad must have been quite the electrician.” Farley marveled.
“The house actually has a little electricity. We generate it by riding a bike. Dad thought it would be great exercise.”
As they got close to the house Farley stopped and looked off at the cluttered field just beyond.
“Is that a solar field?”
“Dad’s been working on it for years. It doesn’t really work. It generates electricity but dad could never figure out a battery that could really store the energy it produces. Seemed kinda pointless to me. But he claimed it didn’t matter for what he had planned.”
“What was his plan?”
“He never told us.” Jacob responded.
“Well he had to have something in mind kid. I’m guessing that field of old mismatched panels didn’t grow itself.
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