*****Note: This is a short story I’m working on. It’s currently updated/edited on a near-daily basis. ******
The sun had set across the orange sky 387 times since Papa had disappeared into the water. It had passed 120 times since the day his brother Roger had left to find others. It had passed 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 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.
He stood waist-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. His stomach panged of hunger, but for today a potato from the field would have to suffice. Jacob filled a bucket with water from the pond and set 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 had 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 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 and had managed to sprout a few squashes as well.
There were few luxuries on their small farm. This didn’t matter because most days were filled with work. 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, a large garden, the bee farm, and the fish pond. The only animals on their farm were goats and bees. Within the house, there were four rooms; the main room, Papa’s room, the room he and Roger shared, and the library. Jacob spent most of his evenings sitting in the library reading by candlelight.
That night, however, after his potato dinner, Jacob didn’t feel much like reading. His mind had become overwhelmed by the possibility that his brother was not returning. 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 years. But Roger seemed certain there were more. It was obvious that at some point in the past, many more lived nearby. Their own farm was surrounded by massive ruins that at some point were far nicer than their small farm. Some were as close as just a few stretches down the road from the farm. But the people were long gone.
Nights had become cold and Jacob built a fire in a pit overlooking the pond. He watched the sunset, hardly bothering to move. As the light completely faded, the sky became clear with what had to be millions of stars. Papa had always been fascinated by the stars and often talked about what it might be like to travel to some of them. As Jacob 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 the sound. The loudest sound Jacob had ever heard. 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, eyes held to the water. After first fully sinking, the top of the large sphere quickly re-emerged. The ball continued to bob up and down from the initial inertia of it’s impact with the pond. Then it slowly started to turn until what appeared to be a small black door rotated out of the water and swung open.
“I should run“, Jacob told himself. Instead, he remained still and watched as half of a man emerged from the top. For a second the man just looked around, as if taking in his surroundings, until he spotted Jacob.
“Boy!” The man yelled, waving his arms. “Can you throw me a rope? Forgot to pack one!”
Instead of responding Jacob stood silent, marveling at the sight of another human; the first, outside of his family, he’d ever seen. The man was young. Much younger than his papa but older than his brother.
“Hey, kid! I know this is crazy, but a rope could really help me out! Don’t feel much like swimming today.” The man repeated.
Jacob retreated to grab a rope, walking to the barn and debating to himself if he was making a mistake. “He just fell out of the sky! He could be an alien, or some evil spirit sent here to drag us to the underworld. But 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. “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 stopped pulling.
“Wait!” He said to the man who was 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, 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. Perhaps we can get aquatinted once I get off this ball. “
That wasn’t really an answer. But, 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?” the man asked. “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. My brother left months ago. It’s just me.”
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.
“Where did you come 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?”
This seemed like an odd question to Jacob. Didn’t this man know where he was at? “Papa said it had been hundreds. They aren’t safe. They fall sometimes. A couple 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 others. He hasn’t come back. So they’re either really far away or something happened to him.”
“Sorry to hear that.” The man sounded sincere. But shouldn’t this man know where the other people are, or where Jacob’s brother might be? He had to be one of the others. How had he just appeared? And how long was he going to be here?
“You still haven’t told me how you just fell out of the light,” Jacob pushed.
The man hesitated for a moment. “You see that ball I came out of? That’s a time machine. I’m from the past. I actually set it to deliver me farther back in time than this. I’m not sure how I ended up here.”
As fantastical as this sounded, Jacob 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. “Should I just call you kid?”
The man pulled his hand back. “Well Jacob, I might need your help 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. Truth be told, this Farley guy could have asked him for anything and he’d have obliged. The shock of meeting another human had not worn off. Which is also the reason he followed him.
First, they checked out the main house. Jacob showed him in and gave a somewhat informal tour. Farley seemed impressed with how clean and tidy everything 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, they 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.
“Can’t believe you take care of all of this by yourself. 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 waist 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 one of two large leather captain’s chairs. “Dammit. The battery appears close to dead. Must be from the particularly long leap. I’ll have to find a power source. I saw you had lights up in the house. They work?”
“They run off a battery we charge with a stationary bike.”
“Is that a joke? A bike? That certainly won’t produce enough for me. Our legs might fall off trying to generate what I need. Your dad didn’t have a better way?”
“He had a weird sense of humor and he really likes the bike. So he hadn’t hooked up the easy power yet.”
“Yeah, dad was working on it when he disappeared into the water. He had some project he needed it for. But he wouldn’t tell me what it was yet. 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.”
“A solar field?”
“Yeah, next to my 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.”
Farley smiled, “Well then down the road we go!”
Jacob’s dad’s workshop was a ramshackle one-story two-room shack. As they approached, 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.
“Before he disappeared into the water we’d make regular trips with our bikes and wagon to grab stuff from a big neighborhood a couple of miles from here.”
As they got close to the house Farley stopped and looked off at the cluttered field just beyond.
“Is that the solar field?” Farley asked, staring at what Jacob knew amounted to twenty-three rows of forty solar panels each, all various mismatched designs and sizes.
“Dad’s been working on it for years. It doesn’t really work. It generates electricity but dad could never get a battery to store the energy he said he needed. Seemed kinda pointless to me. But he claimed it didn’t matter for what he had planned.”
“What was his ultimate plan? He ever say why he needed so much energy?”
“Nope. Just said he needed it.” Jacob responded.
“Well, he had to have something in mind kid. That’s enough power to light a million of your little cabins. You never helped?”
“He wouldn’t let me. Said it was for a big surprise.”
Farley stepped into the shed. Jacob had not touched anything since his father had left. Most everything was covered in dust. The twenty by twenty-foot room was well lit by eight large windows, two on each wall. Unlike the technological junkyard outside, the inside of the shed was neat and organized. Small technological devices and various electronic projects lined the shelves, desk and the large counter in the back of the room. Overhead hung a ceiling fan and lamp. Farley flipped a switch on the wall. The fan came on.
“Well there’s power coming to here from somewhere,” said Farley.
Jacob was surprised himself to see the lights come on and the fan turning. His father worked out here at night some, but Jacob had never considered that his father used light beyond the small portable lights he’d often made Jacob recharge using the bike.
Farley noticed. “You didn’t know he had power out here?”
“Dad never let me come in.”
“Obedient little guy aren’t you? You haven’t even looked in here since he’s been gone?”
“I poked around a couple of times. No real reason to though. The farm keeps me busy.”
Farley walked around the room examining its contents. He smiled as he examined some of Jacob’s father’s notes and various little projects. Jacob guessed he was smart like his father.
After about fifteen minutes of actually sitting at father’s desk and rummaging through his notes, Farley seemed satisfied. “This is excellent. I can’t tell exactly what he was planning but his calculations are flawless. He was creating a device capable of sending a very strong charge to something very quickly. Would take one heck of a sunny day.”
Jacob followed Farley as they both stepped outside and moved to the solar field. Slowly walking through the panels Farley the overall setup, his excitement appearing to grow. Finally, Farley stopped walking, put his hands on his hips and turned to Jacob. “Kid, looks like I’m going to have to finish what he started. But he certainly left a lot to work with. But you’re going to help me.”
Over the weeks Jacob went back to his chores while Farley to work on the solar field. Their paths rarely crossed during the days but they came together in the evenings to share a meal and talk of each other’s worlds. Farley came from a much different time when over ten billion people still occupied the earth and life, in general, was much more fast-paced than the solitary life on Jacob’s farm. He told of governments who exercised incredibly organized control over their respective populations. Electricity was used for far more than just lights and fans. People moved about their days in motorized vehicles that didn’t require peddles. Of course, none of this was new to Jacob. His father had known all of these things and taught him. Plus the books that lined his library shelves told of the same past. Still, all of this was more fascinating to Jacob coming from a real-life person who had been there and Jacob was growing to like their nightly routine of dinner and stories of the past.
In exchange for those tellings of Farley’s life, in what he referred to as “the year 2130”, Jacob told what he knew of this world – which sadly he realized wasn’t much. The days were apparently slightly longer. The tall buildings were starting to fall. The people before him had left behind a lot of junk. And he had no idea where they had gone off to or why he was the only one left. In fact, it wasn’t until Farley’s arrival that he realized he’d never been more than a couple of miles out from the farm and really had no concept of how large or small the overall planet really was.
One day Farley came back from the solar field after having only been away an hour. Jacob was tending to his growing potato field.
“Kid, I want to do something different today.” Farley proclaimed. “We’re going on an adventure.”
“To where?” Jacob asked.
“Just somewhere farther than you’ve gone before. I’ve got something I want to check out. We need to pack a few supplies. We might not be back until tomorrow.”
Jacob filled a backpack with snacks and two metal canteens of water before they headed on their way. He had no idea where this was going and he was a little nervous to leave the farm for an evening, but a trip seemed worth the risk, and he trusted Farley at this point.
As they left the general premises of the farm Jacob became more curious as to Farley’s intended destination. Thankfully Farley must have sensed his curiosity.
“I know it’s been about five hundred years but this is still the same area and city I’m used to roaming. Depending on when things fell apart here, I’m guessing at least some of the roads are still the same. And there was a place about 15 miles from here that I want to check out.”
After about twenty minutes of walking past mostly woods and empty fields, they reached a fork in the road.
“The neighborhood where we collect things is that way.” Jacob pointed to the left.
“What’s the other way?”
“I don’t know, dad never took me that way.”
Rather than respond Farley took the fork to the right and kept walking. Within five minutes on the road, they reached an iron gate, or really more like a huge door, with a wall on both sides, standing thirty feet high and stretching as far as they could see on both sides.
“Looks like we might have found one reason he never took you this way,” said Farley, flipping the only latch. The large gate swung open with ease. “You ever seen this wall? Know what’s on the other side?”
Jacob shook his head no. As Farley stepped through the huge iron door Jacob remained still.
“I’m not sure we should do this,” he said.
“Kid, I promise, I’ve got this. There’s nothing to worry about. I’m pretty sure that if there was trouble beyond these walls, it would have found your farm by now. Besides, you’ve got to have some cabin fever. Let’s see what’s beyond this wall.”
The other side of the wall revealed a small town, with larger buildings visible in the background.
“That’s Houston over there. Did your dad ever tell you that?”
“Well in Houston, just about an hour or so walk from here, there’s a place where we were building some of the most advanced spaceships ever designed. Our time travel lab was back where I fell out of the sky. But I also had an office over in one of the space labs. I want to see what happened to the place, or better yet, the ships.”
As they made their way across the vacant city streets Jacob understood why his father had never brought him out here. Most of the buildings were overgrown with what looked like decades – or longer – of vegetation. The neighborhood they often scavenged from inside the wall was far newer than anything on this side.
“Kid, looking around I gotta tell you, I’m thinking this world has been vacant for quite a long time,” said Farley.
After a couple of hours, they reached a gated entrance at the fenced perimeter of what appeared to be some kind of large facility. Jacob followed Farley as the passed through and head towards a series of large windowless metal buildings. Several of the buildings had what appeared to be gigantic doors on their fronts.
“Those are the space labs,” Farley explained. “‘We built ships in there.”
As they reached a large concrete field that stretched for what Jacob assumed might be miles, Farley stopped. He seemed to be contemplating something but remained silent. Then with obvious purpose, he turned and quickly walked towards the largest of the large windowless buildings. Jacob followed, himself becoming more excited to see whatever Farley seemed focused on finding.
As they reached the building a single small door at the base stood open. Farley walked through as if he’d walked through it a hundred times. Passing through, Jacob found himself looking up at the largest room he’d ever been in. He guessed they could fit thirty or fourty of his farms in this room.
“We did it,” Farley exclaimed, talking more to himself than to Jacob. “We left. We actually left.”
From there, one by one they checked each building. Farley explained that each of the hangers had once housed the construction of spaceships capable of carrying around six thousand people each. All apparently now gone.
“We discovered a nearby solar system with multiple inhabitable planets. These ships were to hold the first colonies of each of the six planets, ” Farley explained. “Each ship was to take six years to construct. They were in the first year when I left. In fact, the entire point of my trip was to leap into the not-so-distant future and get a preview of the results. I’d not intended to come to a time when no one could verify success or failure. Let’s look around a little more and then we can head back.”
“You think they made it?” Jacob asked.
“The only challenge we had yet to overcome was landing each ship in the right location. See, to move a ship that large quickly, you basically have to bend space around it. It’s a sort of teleport technology requiring some pretty fancy physics. We nailed the distance, just not the exact location. Not much point in traveling somewhere in an instant if you’re three hundred light years off.”
From the last hanger, Farley led Jacob through the facility to a lab on the far side of the facility. Paper littered the halls of the six or seven high rise office buildings they passed through, each connected by glass skywalks. Finally, they reached a closed door at the end of one of the skywalks. On the side of the door was a large black pad.
“This is a long shot,” Farley said as he pressed his hand to the pad. In an instant, the door opened and the lights inside auto illuminated what appeared to be an immense technology lab.
“There’s power here?” Jacob asked.
“This facility has its own small fusion power source. Was developed to run independently using artificial intelligence, even in the event of an apocalyptic level disaster. I guess no one ever shut it down.”
Jacob followed Farley to the back of the large room where a series of smaller offices lined the back wall. Farley entered one and fired up a computer and started laughing.
“This is my computer!” he exclaimed. “it’s obviously much more advanced than the one I left. But this is definitely my office. There’s a photo of my parents on that credenza over there. We must have vacated at some point.”
Farley started working furiously on the computer as if looking for something. It didn’t take long for him to find it.
“This is it! The formulas for executing the location of the teleport.”
Farley pulled a small device out of his pocket and used it to take photos of the computer screen. After about thirty minutes Farley declared that he had what he need and that they could go, but not before stopping by a supply building for a couple of electrical components he needed for his work back on the farm.
The walk back home seemed shorter than the walk out, probably because Jacob had a lot on his mind. Farley was obviously satisfied with his find in the lab. It was all he talked about as they walked. For the three hour walk, he seemed intent on educating Jacob on the workings of the universe. Things like interdimensional travel, time warps, space warps, and alternative universes. All of these things were over Jacob’s head. His own thoughts were on the fact that he knew Farley’s discovery meant he’d be all the more anxious to get back to his own time. They returned to the farm right around the time Jacob normally turned into bed. But his mind was too unsettled for sleep.
Farley had obviously picked up on it, “You were mighty quiet on the walk back.” Farley said.
“I was just thinking about you leaving. It’s been fun having someone else around.”
“Yeah kid, I’ve been thinking about that too. In fact, I was sort of thinking you could come back with me. I doesn’t exactly feel right leaving you here.”
Jacob had expected this. He’d thought about it himself every day since Farley had arrived.
“I can’t leave my brother.” He responded. “He might come back.”
“I thought about that and I definitely get it. But he’s been gone about four months, right? I know you hope with everything you’ve got that he comes back. But from what you’ve told me about him, I have a feeling your brother would never have intentionally left you for four months.”
“I just can’t believe he’s not coming back,” Jacob responded, the weight of the conversation forcing him to hold back tears.
“Well, we don’t have to decide today. In fact, I have at least a month or two before I get power to the time machine. That’s gives us two more months for your brother to come back, and two more months for you to think about it.”
Jacob hadn’t considered that Farley had that much more work. Hearing it gave him an instant peace. Farley’s departure wasn’t imminent.
Over the next couple of weeks, Jacob and Farley divided days by helping each other. Farley spent the mornings with Jacob working the farm and even improving some things. And in the afternoons, the two of them worked together preparing the solar field and lines for supplying power all the way down to the ship.
To be cont (edited and updated almost daily)…
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