Science fiction is a genre that never came very easily to me because, well, I’m not terribly good with science. But I love sci-fi, and having never been deterred by lack of skill before (you should have seen my attempts at sports in high school) I went ahead and wrote in it anyway. This is one of my earliest attempts.
Dr. Ellis had nearly given up on time travel. He had built a solid theory, as well as a solid machine (several in fact,) but it was useless. The machine sat in his laboratory, and the theory sat in his head because he had not yet devised a method to power the them with. He had tried nuclear power, solar power, hydrogen fuel and even a wood-burning stove. None of it worked.
The answer came to him one day when he was very hungry. He was considering a slice of cherry pie in a store window, the sweet goo pouring out of the flaky crust, yellowed with butter under a large swirl of cream. For what seemed like an hour he stared, tried to remember how much cash he had in his pocket and stared some more. When the bakery manager came out, Dr. Ellis was startled out of his trance. Wiping a little drool from the corner of his mouth he apologized, blushed, and hurried away, but not before catching sight of the clock.
“There it is!” he shouted, then blushed again as passers-by stared. We’ve had the power source with us all this time, he thought, silently this time.
And so they–that is to say, people–had. For as he walked away from the store and the cherry pie, he noticed that barely two minutes had passed, yet surely it was an hour! He knew then: the mind powers time.
And we are the machine! he thought in triumph.
Upon arriving home, he scrapped all his old work and began to work on a new theory using the human mind as both the vessel and power source. He experienced great success in this venture. Soon, he could, in theory, make hours race ahead, allowing, for example, one to experience the end and beginning of a dull dinner party without any of the in-between parts that made it dull. Or, he could slow seconds down to a near stand still allowing more time for enjoyable things, like love-making, cherry pie, and good books.
There were two problems with his research. First, though he could slow down time or speed it up into the future, he had not yet figured out how to go backwards. He hypothesized, however, that this was possible, and kept working at it. Perhaps a combination of factors could exert enough force on the mind to make it turn backwards.
He tried many formulas to achieve this. For example: a lecture on the tree-ant’s sleeping patters plus full logarithm tales plus a twelve foot pile of manila folders to be filed. That one was pretty close; it managed to bring time to a near standstill. But still it would not go backwards.
The second problem was the mind’s natural tendency to time travel in exactly the opposite direction it was supposed to. If left alone, it would drag the host through the dull moments, expanding seconds into hours, and collapse hours into seconds during the fantastic moments.
Dr. Ellis theorized that this was an evolutionary mechanism, and quite a powerful one. Nature wanted the organism to realize just how boring the boring moments were, so it would avoid those in the future. The organism also needed to get through the fantastic moments quickly so that they could seek out more and more of these. While no doubt a biological advantage, this was exactly the tendency he wished to counter.
This problem was a particular beast. The doctor worked obsessively on it. He thought it was rather as if the subconscious controlled walking. One could try all morning to arrive at work, only to end up at the theater or the bakery.
He tried many methods of distracting the subconscious mind. (Would it falter for a raspberry torte? Or a well-proportioned blonde?) If it were distracted long enough, then the conscious mind could sneak off through time. He also tried tricking the subconscious mind into inverting its natural patterns (would a caramel cheesecake make work meetings fly by? Would a persistent itch make a holiday last forever?) The subconscious, however, was a stubborn and well-disciplined creature. It had made its patterns and stuck with them like cement.
Still, he worked and he worked. One night, as he was fiddling with a distraction contraption he’d built, he cut his finger on a piece of aluminum foil. He tried to ignore it, but the blood dripped all over the contraption and ran onto his notes. He went to the bathroom to find a bandage.
He opened the door, with the non-bloody hand, and walked into the bathroom. There was somebody there! He jumped in alarm, shoulders twitching, hands shaking. Seeing the stranger’s reflection, he whirled to accost the intruder. But his knee gave way, spilling him to the floor. When he looked up, the stranger had gone. Shaking, knee throbbing, he stood, gripped the sink. There! He was back! Slowly this time, but still trembling he turned his head. But as he did, the stranger turned away. They turned back and stared at each other, the mirror in between.
Dr. Ellis looked at his own drooping skin and pale eyebrows.
“No!” he yelled. “I don’t know how to go back yet!”
He stumbled back to his desk. His notes were all in disarray. He clawed through them desperately.
“There must be a key in here somewhere!”
Crimson drips fell from his finger.
Through stacks of diagrams and formulas his withered hands searched.
“I know I can fix it…I know I can fix it…”
The faster he searched, the longer his grizzled hair grew. Joints groaned and stiffened. His concave chest struggled to expand enough for air.
“There must…be a way…to go…back.”
His head spun, and the panic grew wilder. His hair grew faster, and his joints grew slower. His breaths grew weaker.
The cement floor ground against his bent back. Failing fingers clutched a stack of papers. Pupils, quickly clouding with cataracts, strained to see.
Then time stopped. At least, it did for him.