This week I listened to a radio interview with Ann Vandermeer, the editor The Time Traveler's Almanac. Goodreads describes it as "the largest and most definitive collection of time travel stories ever assembled." I am sure it does not include my story, which was published in The Langdon Review of the Arts in Texas in 2008.
"Now and Forever"
The time traveler’s first heroic action occurred just days after he discovered his special abilities. He was standing on the riverbank, fishing by himself, when he saw a pickup truck crash through the railing of the nearby suspension bridge and plunge onto the ferry that was passing right below it. The truck crashed through the roof of the crowded ferry and something exploded. He saw the fire and the bodies flying. He heard the screaming and saw the people thrashing in the flames. The time traveler knew he had to do something. He knew instantly that this must be the moment he had been created for, or at least moments like this were the reason. So he blinked his eyes three times and waved his hands in a circle before him in the little ritual he had invented for himself to conjure this special power.
When he opened his eyes the third time, the ferry was a good half-mile up the river, and so he ran to the bridge to stop the truck before it could crash through the railing. On the roadway of the bridge, he spotted the pickup truck approaching and he bravely stepped into the lane waving his arms. The truck stopped, and he ran to the driver’s door only to see that the older, heavy-set man was in some distress – a heart attack! Should he go back further in time? Could he stop this too? He did not know. He was new to being a hero.
Then he hears a monstrous grinding of metal and the roaring protest of engines. The ferry has crashed into the bridge. He runs to the railing and looks over in time to see the ferry burst into flames, and then something explodes. He sees the fire and the bodies flying. He hears the screaming and sees the people thrashing in the flames. The time traveler steps back from the railing – flames shoot straight up at him. Traffic is stopping on the bridge, backed up behind the truck. Drivers are honking. He hears the deep bellow of the ferry’s horn, but it is coming from the far side of the bridge. He looks over the railing again, but the ferry is gone. He runs across the bridge, and he sees the ferry passing beneath him, unscathed. No flames. No bodies. How did that happen? He thinks to himself, “Is there another like me?” Has someone else traveled back in time and stopped the ferry from colliding with the bridge? Perhaps it is even himself! Perhaps some earlier version of himself has traveled back in time to stop the ferry accident.
Is this possible? He wishes he knew.
The time traveler looks over the railing, wondering if he will spot himself standing on the ferry, perhaps even looking up toward the bridge to spot himself, too. But there is no ferry. It is gone. It is further up river. It is a mile down river. He turns and sees the traffic on the bridge and it seems to pulse. The cars become trucks, the trucks cars. They change size, number, and speed. How many of him exist now? Or are there others? An army of time travelers, all unknown to each other? A sedan that had stopped behind the truck drives past him. It is headed in the opposite direction. It is driven by a woman in a scarf. It is driven by the same woman but with flowing hair. It is driven by that woman with three children in the backseat, fighting over a stuffed lion. It is driven by the woman in the car by herself. It is gone. The bridge is solid with cars, none of them moving. The bridge is deserted. The time traveler turns slowly round and round, looking, looking. There is no bridge at all, and as he falls toward the river he sees that there is no city, just an expanse of trees. He is standing on the bridge, but he is a woman. He is a man, but he stands next to a beautiful woman in a yellow dress, and they hold hands. There is no woman, but he holds the hand of a little boy, whose quizzical, uplifted eyes suggest that he has just asked a question. Before the time traveler can answer, the boy is gone, and a dog sits next to the man and watches two seagulls float on the breeze. He turns to the city and it is noisy with construction and traffic and shining in the sun. The rain pours down. The river rises dangerously close to the bridge’s roadway. The river is bone dry and the city is surrounded by desert. The city is larger than he remembers. The city is smaller. The city is a blackened, silent skeleton, murdered by some apocalypse, and the bridge teeters beneath him, swinging on tattered cables. Standing on the humming, invisible bridge, he sees the pulsing silver city and its flying cars.
He stands on the bridge, mesmerized by the eternal now.