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There are no shortcuts in Time Travel

There’s a light.

It’s bright enough to impinge on my consciousness, even through closed eyelids.

There are noises too.

Bleeping, rhythmic but subdued.

And voices.

 I can’t make out what they’re saying.

It requires an effort of will to crack open one eye, as if the lashes were glued together.

Through the spiderweb filter I can see nothing but the glare of the light.

I think about lifting my arm to shield my vision from the intense brightness but it feels too heavy to move. Instead, I turn my head a fraction to the side and try to squint obliquely at my surroundings.

Everything is white.

A shadow passes in front of the light, partially blocking it.

I can make out a shape. It’s a person.

A voice, a woman, says;

            “Mr. Grant? Can you hear me? He’s awake.”

It takes me a moment to realise that the last part is not directed at me.

A male voice replies;

            “I’ll call the family.”

I open my mouth to respond but my tongue won’t function. It feels dry, thick.

Now I’m able to raise my hand and point to my mouth as I utter disjointed vowel sounds. Then I raise it to shade my eyes, and see the nurse.

Some  members of the profession possess an empathy which borders on mind-reading.

            “Wait,” she says “I’ll get you some water. And let me just dim the lights, if they’re bothering you.”

The overhead panel is extinguished, leaving small wall lights as the only source of illumination, and the nurse is at the side of my bed, with a beaker of water. She holds it carefully to my lips and I sip slowly, examining my surroundings. The water is cool and fresh.

I’m in a room on my own. There are monitors at the side of the bed and a TV on the wall at the foot. It’s muted, but appears to be showing a news programme.

            “Thank you.” I manage, and look at the nurse. Short blonde hair and freckles. Around twenty, I would guess.

She smiles and withdraws the cup.

I need to know.

“What year?”

“2055.” she replies without hesitation, or any sign of surprise.

I manage a quiet rattle which approximates a laugh. I did it! I travelled to the future.

I close my eyes for a moment and relax back into the soft pillow. I ought to be shouting and punching the air, but I’m just so fatigued.

The male nurse has returned.

“She’s here.” he announces, quietly.

I open my eyes, clearer now, to see a young woman at the foot of the bed looking back at me nervously.

            “Grandfather?” she ventures.

            “I don’t know you.” It’s a statement of fact. I hope it doesn’t sound like a rejection.

            “Alicia. I’m Michael’s daughter.”

Michael. It only seems moments ago that I was hugging my son. Telling him that everything was going to be fine, that I would be back soon. Then we pulled the lever, and everything went white.

That was thirty years ago. He must be fifty now.

            “Where is he?”

            “He won’t come. He’s still angry.”

            “Angry?”

            “About Grandma being left alone, to sort out everything. You know, the insurance and…”

Her voice tails off. She fidgets, nervously and looks embarrassed.

I guess she has a point, though. Or, at least, Michael does.

I hadn’t considered it but, after my disappearance, Janet would have had to have me declared dead. In the case of a vanishing husband I don’t suppose the Insurance Company would be in any rush to pay up. I feel a twinge of guilt.

            “Janet?”

            “Grandma died three years ago. Cancer.”

I exhale, slowly, fighting down a wave of grief I knew I had no need to feel. Once I’m back on my feet, given the advances which must have been made in time travel research since my breakthrough in 2020, I’ll soon be back home and reunited with my dear wife.

            “She always knew you would come back.” Alicia smiled sadly. “It’s such a shame she can’t be here to see it.”

            “I’m sorry I kept her waiting.”

            “She would come and visit you every day. She’d sit by your bed, holding your hand and talking to you, as if you could hear. At the end, we had to bring her in her wheelchair, but she never stopped hoping.”

            “Wait. I’m confused. Every day?”

I don’t understand.

“How long have I been in this bed?”

I’m beginning to panic.

“Was there a problem with the time jump? Did something go wrong?”

            “Time jump.” She nodded. “That’s what Dad said you were trying to do. I’ve heard the story so many times. You were in your lab. You hugged him then stepped into your ‘damned machine’ as he calls it. You pulled the lever and the whole thing exploded. You were weeks in ICU. Then they transferred you to a long-term care facility. The Insurance Company tried to prove it was an uninsured risk, or some kind of suicide attempt. Grandma sued and managed to secure funding for the first few years.

After that, things got difficult. She sold the house and Dad helped out where he could. Ironically, it was her life insurance that’s been covering it up until now.”

I’m having difficulty processing what I’m hearing.

My throat is parched but I manage to croak,

“Mirror.”

She fetches one from the bathroom and holds it up in front of my face.

I don’t recognise the wizened, almost mummified, ancient looking back at me.

But I feel the hot passage of his tears as they course down my cheeks.

I did it. I travelled to the future. But there’s no way back to my past.