Time travel to prevent a presidential assassination. A novel idea. I had a few notes regarding a story on that subject scribbled in a notebook. The notebook went in a drawer, waiting for the Future Me to rescue it.
Recently, a well-known author who I will not mention (however, he is a King of thriller fiction) released a novel whose plot revolved around, you guessed it… Time travel to prevent a presidential assassination. He either read my mind or my notebook. Or possibly used a time machine to spy on me scribbling my notes all those years ago.
Regardless, my original story is much different than the novel available at your local bookstore (or possibly on your King-dle.) My version is a 900-word short story intended for middle -grade readers, and as always, grownups as well.
Without further ado, I hope you enjoy:
A LETTER FOR LINCOLN
Time travel isn’t rocket science. I wish it was. I’ve had success in the past with rockets. Mostly. At this particular moment in time, Professor Headstrong is chewing me out royally. “Clifford King, the animal rights people are NOT happy! Posting your little time travel experiment on MyVideo was foolhardy!” (He uses that word a lot.) “And now, it’s gone viral! WHERE is the rabbit, Clifford? Where did it go?”
I wish I knew. I liked that rabbit. He was fine when I sent him in the time travel pod, but now it came back empty. Not good.
Amber gives me a hug. It makes me feel a little better. Right now I need answers, not pity. But I graciously accept her hug.
The man at the pawn shop is to blame, not that I can tell anyone. When he accepted my bicycle (“walking would be good for you”) for his one of a kind Where And When Machine, he swore me to secrecy. Then he gave me a look that emphasized the seriousness of the matter. Mr. Okoto gave only simple instructions regarding the pod. It goes WHERE you tell it; it goes WHEN you tell it. It will only take inanimate objects if accompanied by a living creature. It will return in one hour. It takes pictures. It is harmless.
For the record, I’m against using animals for testing. I’d have tried the pod myself, but it’s no bigger than old-school game system. That wouldn’t work. This SHOULD have worked. Where IS the rabbit? And the carrot, for that matter?
“Bugsy’s in his cage!” my lanky friend George Ganglia announces, coming upstairs. I’m relieved. So are my ears, since Headstrong stops shouting, at least momentarily.
“Are you sure, Gangly?” I ask, even as he produces the rabbit, looking just fine, perfectly healthy.
Professor Headstrong has an opinion, of course. “Now, this makes perfect sense! Bugsy is HERE because he couldn’t be THERE. He didn’t belong THERE. He didn’t exist THERE.”
“THEN, you mean,” I say. I enjoy correcting the Professor.
A loud buzz comes from the darkroom, announcing that the pictures from the Where And When Machine (the “Double W”) have been developed. Why doesn’t it have a digital camera? I hadn’t asked Mr. Okoto.
The pictures are unbelievable. There’s Bugsy. There‘s the carrot. There’s a bearded man eating the carrot. Not just any bearded man, though. It’s our sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln! Who knew he liked carrots from the future?
“Time for Phase Two!” I cheer, moving quickly, before Professor Headstrong can object.
I have my specially addressed warning letter ready. There’s cold sweat running down my back. I’m excited and anxious at the same time. I’m about to prevent my favorite historical figure from going anywhere near Ford’s Theatre and meeting his well-known fate. As an afterthought, I put another carrot with the letter, and type in the coordinates into the Double W.
I press GO… almost. Amber stops me. “Bugsy,” she says. I slap my forehead. I had nearly sent the pod without him! “In you go, Bugsy.”
NOW I press GO, and Bugsy goes THEN. And THERE.
One hour is a long time to wait. Especially when Professor Headstrong is busy lecturing on the “foolhardiness of time travel,” and explaining his personal belief that “history protects itself.” He will get no credit for saving President Lincoln. Normally, Gangly and I would be merrily engaged in a game of “Punched you last,” and Amber would be rolling her eyes at us, but all of us are too nervous to do anything but sit and wait. And keep waiting. Not to mention the waiting. It’s like torture. And the orange Liven Up! soda we’ve been guzzling is only making us all more jittery. Nothing slows Professor Headstrong, though. Now he’s rambling on about sugary syrupy drinks with little nutritional value.
Everyone is tense. THEN, the hour is up!
Silence. Nothing happens. “ Well, Clifford? WHERE is the pod? WHERE is the rabbit?” This time I’m glad I left my videocam off. Though it would be nice to capture the shade of purple that Headstrong’s face is presently turning.
Gangly is first down the stairs. “Bugsy!” Sure enough, he’s back in his cage, nose twitching, a bit like the Professor’s. No carrot.
We are all pondering possibilities. I look past Amber at Gangly; he has every brain cell working on this mystery.
Just then, the doorbell rings. A delivery man is standing outside with a letter in a leathery envelope. It looks centuries old. None of us need to guess who it is from.
The letter inside will be displayed in a museum in the future. It says in fourscore and so many words that Mr. Lincoln got my message. He expressed appreciation for the warning, and commended my ingenuity. But it also makes clear that he does not wish to alter events which lead one day to such an “advanced new civilization.” He wishes the “unknown scientists” good health, and announces that he is dismantling “the odd machine which mysteriously appeared.” His closing is unforgettable. “Thank you for the carrots. Yours very truly, A. Lincoln.”
“Well then,” says Headstrong triumphantly. “History does protect itself. You’ve accomplished nothing, except for losing your pod-thingy. This was all for nothing.“ I just laughed. “All for nothing? Are you kidding? I’ve got a letter from Lincoln!”
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