The day I turned twenty-one, I looked in the mirror to examine the face of the man I had become.
I recalled a day of childhood long ago that lived eternal in my mind. A summer morning when the sun stood proudly in solid azure, and my mother’s silver wind chimes sang arguments against a gentle breeze. Out on the balcony, the air tousled my short, thin strands of blonde hair, while I gazed longingly out across the rolling expanses of green grass and tall eucalyptus that made up the county park.
The morning was still new, and I begged my mother to take me to the playground for a chance at the swings and slide before those children without the luxury of living next to the park would get there and the lines began.
My mother was willing, but her time to get ready for a simple walk to the park was intolerable. I told her I was going by myself, but she pleaded for me to wait. There were too many bad people out there, she said, who might want to hurt me.
It was inconceivable to my child’s mind that evil could coexist with such perfect beauty as the park and sky above. I called out my farewell, ensured her of my security, and advised her I’d be on the swings. Bounding down to the end of the corridor, I descended the stairs, mindful — as my age required — to hold onto the hand rail and take only one step at a time. I walked around the building, out onto the concrete path that passed the buildings and led into the park proper.
Birds sang, and eucalyptus trees whispered their morning greetings in the breeze. The scent of grass still wet from early morning watering filled my nose. All was right and bright with the world that day.
As I strode the path, a could see in the distance a mere handful of children gathered, playing boisterously. A hundred feet from the playground, the path dipped and curved around a dense, leafy shrub. At the same moment I lost sight of my goal, a man’s voice called out, and I felt without doubt he was addressing me. An older man, he was someone who I associated as being a similar age as my grandfather. Clean and casually dressed, with perhaps a couple days of stubble on his face, he came hurrying up to me.
He came to tell me about my mother. Something had happened to her. He would take me to be with her at the hospital, and call relatives to come take care of me.
My mother had always warned me not to talk to strangers, and to never, ever go with them. Yet in that moment, there came only a horrific image of my mother somehow terribly hurt, maybe dying; never knowing when or if she would return; doomed to live out my life in that huge park.
Confused and frightened, I cried as the stranger took my hand and lead me back down the path. Suddenly he veered off across the grass, making a direct line for the gravel parking lot that contained only two or three cars.
My eyes fogged with tears, I only vaguely remember seeing a form approaching from the left, on a direct interception course with mine and the stranger’s.
His voice rang out firm and friendly. This new stranger was younger and smiled wide, but, even as a child, I sensed there was no true friendliness there.
The man with my hand brushed off the younger one with a grumble.
“Let the boy go.” I remember exactly how slowly and distinctly the second stranger spoke. The words were cold and heavy even in the warmth of the morning.
My self-proclaimed protector pulled us to a stop, then turned around and attempted an explanation.
The younger man yanked off his sunglasses and pressed close until the two men were nose-to-nose. The older man’s voice faded into a stammer and his face flooded with fear. He was shaking–so was I. I didn’t know what was going on, who these men were, or where and how my mother was.
“I know exactly who you are and what you’re going to do,” the younger man said icily. “I know what you’ve already done to other little boys. I know the things you’ve yet to do . . . but you won’t do them — not to them, not to this one.”
My hand became free as the older man turned and burst away, running towards the cars.
I was still crying, still afraid.
The young stranger knelt down and looked me squarely in the face. Crystal-blue irises peered out through lashless slits, and each eye socket was circumscribed with a thin, white ridge of scar tissue. Every few moments, he would squint his eyes closed.
His gaze repulsed me. I squeezed my eyes shut and turned my face away from him.
“It’s okay, Robby,” he said a few moments later. “Look at me.”
The stranger that knew my name had replaced his sunglasses.
I searched his face while my tears dried and my spastic breathing quelled. I felt a sense of well-being with him.
“He was a bad man, Robby. Your mom is fine. Just run home and stay close to her.”
I continued exploring his features and noticed the thick, brown scar encircling his neck. It looked very old, and was still very ugly, suggesting great pain — and great evil. The fear came again. Not of the man, but of what had happened to him. As much as my curiosity wanted to know the story of the scar, my fear obeyed when he once again urged me to run home.
And run I did. I met my mother on the path, flying into her arms and crying for what seemed hours as I tried to explain what had happened. She called the police and they talked to us both together and individually. I was frightened when they separated us, but a young woman in a police uniform talked quietly to me and let me eat ice cream in the kitchen while two men in suits asked me about what happened and where my mother had been. Finally, they let my mother come back in and they used their computer to show me hundreds of pictures of men that looked similar to the two strangers. I was very tired, but I finally saw a face I recognized as the first man. When I told them, the policemen looked at each and thanked me. Leading my mother into the living room, they spoke briefly with her and left. She never told me anything about what the policemen said, but I heard on the school playground that they found a man dead in his car at the park that same morning. He had apparently committed suicide, having taken poison and left a note telling of all the horrible things he had done to children and where they could find their bodies.
The police came back several days later to ask again about the other stranger. I told them all I could about the man with the ugly eyes and the scar around his neck, and how I had not seen him before, and had not seen him since — not until I looked in the mirror on my twenty-first birthday.
* * *
As I grew older, I learned more about the monster that tried to take me away that day, and of all the heinous acts he had performed on other innocent children; how he would surgically remove the flesh from around their eyes, forcing them to watch his assault on them; then hang them by the neck with an electrical cord until they were dead. For reasons unknown, three had been granted the “mercy” of being hog-tied and abandoned naked along a canyon road in the middle of the night; forced to stare into the cold night sky; returned to the world to live an eternal nightmare, never whole again in body or spirit. I frequently awoke screaming and sweating to nightmares of the torture and maiming I had never experienced.
I often wondered what became of me. That was until the autumn evening when the police arrived at my door. They questioned me on my whereabouts several nights previous. It had been a weeknight and I had been home in bed. Divorced and alone, I had no corroboration of my alibi. Then, as they say, we “took a ride downtown.”
After standing for half a minute in a line-up before a two-way mirror, they took me to an interrogation room.
They showed me a booking photo of a filthy-looking, heavy-set man, and asked me if I recognized him. I told them the truth: I didn’t — thankfully.
Then they sprung the news on me: The scumbag (their words), a known child molester and a registered sex offender, had been murdered. Fresh out on parole, he had been seen driving his van in the area of an elementary school as children walked home. Witnesses positively identified me as having had an altercation with the man in the street the night he died. The coroner concluded that he had choked to death on his own severed genitalia.
My God–I was insane!
The polygraph didn’t go well. The biggest problem was when they directly asked me if I had killed the man. Well, of course, I said no, but my psyche was still trying to resolve the issue of the “now” me and the “then” me, so the instrument went crazy.
Next they showed me photos of other dead criminals and asked me about places I had never heard of — let alone been to — in the last twenty-five years. No matter how I answered, the District Attorney was determined to make sure I took responsibility for as many of his unsolved homicides as possible.
Of course the bright side (you always must look for one) was that once the media got a hold of the story, many people (primarily mothers, and especially my mother) actually proclaimed me a hero and protested for my summary release.
Superfluous to say, no chance was ever fatter. The DA was talking multiple murder-one and the death penalty. My own lawyer suggested that I was making things worse by insisting on my innocence. He assured me life without parole — if I would just confess.
Several psychologists evaluated me for a possible insanity defense, but I failed miserably. Every single Ph.D. declared me competent and sane, with a firm grasp on reality. I didn’t fit any of their profiles, but my documented, near-abduction as a child must have turned me into some latent, schizophrenic, sociopath Manchurian Candidate.
Soon after, it struck me: Why not just give them my real grasp on reality?
I called in my lawyer and told him the truth: I was unequivocally convinced that the deaths of all those murdering rapists were the work of the former, future me, the person I had become after being raped, mutilated, and left for dead as a child, who somehow discovered the secret of time travel, returned in time to save myself, then continued to use time travel to thwart many other monsters. This other me was most definitely insane, and he was the one they needed to apprehend, not me.
After I said it, I wasn’t sure I believed it.
If nothing else, at least it delayed the trial. There came another round of intense psychological evaluations and polygraphs over the next two months. I stuck to my story, and the polygraphs proved that I believed every word of it. Eventually, everyone came to an unanimous conclusion:
I was a raving loon.
The competency hearing lasted barely a day and at best was a mere formality. I was 38-years-old when they consigned me to the State Mental Facility. There, I waited patiently (the Prozac helped a lot) for the next time I killed, so I would be vindicated.
On my forty-first birthday, I sat in the day-room watching “Wheel of Fortune” and wondering why people who couldn’t guess “ST**R**Y T* *****N” were allowed to walk the streets. The duty nurse came over and advised me that I had a visitor.
Moving through the patient entry into the visiting room, a young orderly handed me an envelop and informed me that my visitor would be with me in a minute or two. Curious and excited, I hadn’t had a visitor since my mother passed away.
Taking a seat in the far corner of the lounge, I examined the envelop:
Happy Birthday, Robby!
I stared at it.
It was my handwriting.
I opened the flap and slide out the card:
“Time and I against any two.”
– Spanish Proverb
Inside I had wrote:
“In a moment there will be chaos. Go to the visitors Men’s room. In the handicap stall you will find all that suits you. Run home, Robby.”
I heard a loud report beyond the visitor entry. I looked up to see a flash of pastel-blue hospital pajamas streak by the door, trailing plumes of pale green smoke. Two large orderlies bolted out the visitors door after the pajamas.
I got up and ran to the door. The corridor was thick with smoke. I buried my nose the crook of my arm and ran to the men’s room. A pair of shiny-black loafers rested on either side of the handicap commode. I crouched down and peered under the partition: There were no feet in the shoes.
On the back of the stall door hung a navy-blue suit. I tore off my hospital pajamas and hurriedly dressed. I pulled on the jacket and slipped into the loafers. Taking a quick glance around, I spied a plastic bag next to the commode containing what appeared to be a dead animal. Sprayed stiff, the dark-brown wig fit quickly over my head after dampening my hair in the sink.
A couple of minutes had passed and muffled shouting continued beyond the door. My heart raced. I stood before the mirror putting on the dark blue tie with the nondescript pattern. The pajamas got waded up and stuffed in the trash.
A last, quick look showed me a bit ruffled, but in the confusion no one would notice. In a jacket pocket I found a rental car key with the make, color, and license plate number on the tag. The inner breast pocket contained a strange, translucent-red electronic card with several membrane-keys and a liquid crystal display with the current date and time. I wet a wad of paper towel and put it to my face. I heaved the door open and ran out.
The smoke was clearing. The hospital staff looked panicked. Hurrying towards the exit, an orderly stopped me to ask if I was all right.
“I’m going to sue the state for this!” I yelled through the paper towel and continued to the parking lot.
“Sir, don’t!” someone shouted. “A patient has escaped and is running loose on the grounds. He has a gun!”
“I’ll take my chances!”
I found the red, late-model domestic close by. Cruising steadily down the roadway towards the main entrance, I looked out to my left by the high fence interlaced with overgrown bougainvillea: A group of hospital staff and security swarmed around a sprawled mound of pastel-blue.
* * *
Sitting in the shade of an eucalyptus tree, I looked beyond the playground towards the parking lot. I thought of two men, one who had been brutally assaulted as a child, and the other who had been spared the same fate, only to be unjustly imprisoned. I thought of their mothers, one who must have cried and cursed the unseen forces that rule The Universe, and the other that also cried and thanked any and all of the same forces, yet went to her grave believing her son to be criminally insane.
Once again, I unconsciously examined my watch, and once again I silently upbraided myself for the pointless act. Shifting uncomfortably from the continual poking in my stomach and thigh, I examined the Sun’s position and the children on the swings and slide, letting my mind flow back to this day. Sensing the time drawing near, I kept a sharp eye out for two familiar strangers.
A few yards away, he strolled by. He hadn’t noticed me. He wouldn’t, since his only interest was in the same area passed the playground where my interest lay.
I stood up and started after him.
His pace quickened. The boy was on the path with the monster approaching close behind.
“Don’t Rob,” I called out.
He stopped and spun in alarm. Recognition struck as a lightning bolt, and his mouth dropped open and his hand rose slowly towards me.
“What?” He breathed in consternation.
I swallowed hard; my voice trembled.
“You can’t do it, Rob.”
He looked back to the boy and the monster talking on the path. Turning back to me, he pointed at them, his shock being replaced by anger.
“You know. . .You know what he’s going to do to me. . .To you!”
“Of course I know all about him, Rob. . .and about you. . .about us.”
“You can’t let him to it!” He pleaded.
I pulled up my shirt and removed the silenced automatic from my belt. “I didn’t say it can’t be done. . .I said you can’t do it.”
Without fanfare, I leveled the weapon and made it cough three times. The former, future me, fell out of a halo of crimson mist.
Mothers and children began screaming.
I bent down and quickly searched his pockets. I found the red keycard, scrolled the date forward a few centuries and pushed the send button. I pressed the card into his palm and bolted away.
There wasn’t much time. Well, actually, there would always be enough time. Yet, at the moment, the monster and the boy were heading across the grass to the parking lot.
Fueled by terror, I ran full out. I ran as an adult, like I would also run today as a child.
The monster’s attention had been diverted by the screams, yet he hurried the boy along towards the cars.
In less than half a minute, I was within a few yards of them.
“Freeze! Police!” I shouted the pretext, approaching rapidly with my gun raised and pointed directly at the monster. He stared at me like a dear caught in headlights. “Let the boy go.”
So many things might have happened at that moment. Several scenarios flashed through my mind simultaneously.
The monster threw his hands above his head.
“Don’t shoot me!” he pleaded.
I stopped ten feet away. Without removing my gaze from the monster trained in my gun sights, I said. “Run home, son. Your mom’s fine. This man just made a mistake.”
I watched out of the corner of my eye and listened as the rhythmic thumping of sneakers on grass segued to the scuffing of concrete.
“I didn’t do anything to the boy,” the monster said in a trembling voice.
Without a twitch I said, “No, but you would have, wouldn’t you? And then there’s all those others.”
“No, I’m not the crazy one.”
Five seconds later, my gun was empty.
* * *
I finally grew up with an uneventful childhood. Data records show I still got married and divorced, but at age forty-three, I married the temporal research scientist who eventually developed the first time conveyance.
My mother died, leaving a loving family with two grandchildren.
The rest, of course, is history. Well, a history, at least. As curator of the Museum of Cross-Temporal Chronologies, my centerpiece is the preserved body of the first time traveler, with his bullet-ridden skull and antiquated non-psi control device — the former, past me.