With a blinding blue flash, I crashed into a sea of sand. I groaned as I struggled to my feet in the loose earth. I wore a ridiculous smorgasbord of clothes from various cultures and times, no longer concerned with remaining inconspicuous as the chronometer repositioned me throughout time. I wore cowboy boots and a massive leather gun belt. My pants were green and black tiger-striped military fatigues with a large green sack strapped to my hip. My shirt was black silk and very loose. Strapped over my eyes I wore old, WWI era aviator goggles. Atop my head rested a giant, straw sombrero, and over my shoulders hung a massive red cloak.
I looked around. Numerous, mostly naked, men with various weapons surrounded me in the sand. They looked around in confusion. Above the walls stood massive stands filled with people. Someone far off shouted. The armed men cautiously stalked toward me.
“Gladiators,” I snarled as I drew my weapons. I clenched a revolver in my left hand and my tsurugi, Grasscutter, in the other.
For a brief second, I saw a completely different landscape. The people disappeared and the stadium turned to crumbling stone. My head swam. I dropped to one knee. When my vision returned to normal, the gladiators were almost upon me. I swung my tsurugi, unleashing a powerful gust of wind that kicked a wave of sand into the air. The tsunami of loose silt buried the gladiators.
I searched the arena. I spotted a gate far to the right and sprinted toward it. As I neared the gate, the metal bars slowly raised. When the gate stood half-open, a monster of a bear lumbered into the arena.
“Oh, holy fuck!” I shouted as I skidded to a stop and ran in the opposite direction.
The bear roared and gave chase. My vision flickered again, and I tumbled into the sand. The bear pounced. A baseball glove-sized paw swiped at my face. The bear burst into a storm of blue smoke and lightning.
I reappeared and hit the wet ground rolling haphazardly. I lay in a village street on a foggy night. The tiny huts and houses around me all had massive plates of food sitting outside them. I picked myself up and scavenged food from the abandoned dishes. What I could not eat, I stuffed into empty pouches and pockets of my bags and clothes. With a stockpile of food, I casually strolled through the silent village. As I walked, the faint splash of dripping water range through the fog. The drip-drip-dropping grew louder and more disgusting until I stumbled upon the beast in the village square.
I giant blue lion with tufts of green fur and a golden mane sloppily ate from a dish placed against a well. As the beast finished the meal, it turned away from the well and trotted rhythmically toward the houses. Its face was demonic, almost dragon or ogre-like with enormous, burning eyes. Drool sloshed from its tongue over dagger teeth. As the creature traveled further down the muddy road between homes, it finally saw me.
The monster roared. It hunkered down and continued to snap at me as it slowly backed away. I walked toward it, and the beast scampered away faster without losing sight of me. I pulled a fistful of firecrackers and matches from a bag. I threw the small explosives to the ground where they burst into balls of sparks and cracks. The monster retreated further. I chased the creature out of the town using the fireworks. Once we reached a safe distance from the nearest hut, I pulled a metal ball from another sack. Pulling the pin from it, I tossed the grenade at the creature. Immediately, I dropped flat against the ground with my arms covering my head. The explosion shook the ground and pelted by back with chunks of dirt. When I stood, no sign remained of the beast. I dusted dirt off my chest and legs. Turning to leave, I found a small, Asian kid behind me. I stared at the child with one eyebrow raised.
“What?” I asked.
The boy said nothing. I shrugged and walked off. A few moments later, I vanished in a maelstrom of blue light.
The time machine dumped me out into a wasteland filled with metal scrap and garbage, probably back in the future. Within seconds I became aware of the ridiculous heat in the sea of trash. I quickly sought shelter deep within a shaded area beneath what looked like the remains of an aircraft. I stripped my clothes off and set about altering them for the hot environment. I tore apart my boots, shaping them into moccasin-like leather slippers. I trimmed my pants down to shorts and stuffed my shit into a bag. I draped my red cloak around my shoulders, pulled the aviator goggles down over my eyes, and put on the sombrero before venturing back into the scorching steel jungle.
Based on the scenery and temperature, the chronometer had deposited me in the future, some time beyond the clathrate event. The best course was to head north to get as far from the equator as possible in an attempt to escape the dangerous heat. I wandered the metal wasteland for hours, stopping in shaded areas to rest when it became too hot to continue. As night fell, the ferrous desert cooled dramatically to a comfortable level. As I scavenged the endless junkyard, I noticed a light in the sky. An eastern glow bathed the horizon in white and blue. Adjusting course, I set out across the night toward the light.
I traveled like that for weeks. At night, I walked toward the light while sleeping through the hellish days. As I traversed the ocean of futuristic garbage, I gathered any scraps I deemed useful that were light enough to carry. I killed and ate insects the size of footballs, rodents larger than my thigh, and other peculiar creatures to survive. I collected water wherever I could, but also learned to stomach the habit of collecting and filtering my piss when water was scarce.
The strange hallucinations of seeing other points in time continued and worsened. Visions occurred more frequently with more detail and lasted longer each time. Sometimes it felt as if I slipped through the time stream despite the chronometer on my wrist never activating. At other times, I spent several minutes in a feverish daze, lost in a landscape that existed centuries away. During the worst of the spells I’d stop to rest until the vision passed, but when faced with mild episodes, I blindly continued east. Nothing could halt my pilgrimage toward the light.
Early one morning while munching on the lobster-like meat of a super cricket, I found the light. A fortress loomed beyond the edge of the junkyard. Elaborately detailed statues of angelic knights stood guard atop the stone walls. A dome of hard, blue light rose from the walls into the sky.
I didn’t sleep that day. I pressed on, stumbling through the scrap heaps in a delusional trance. Heat pounded against me as I walked until my skin burned and stretched against my flesh. At some point I stopped sweating, but I powered forward. The landscape constantly changed as hallucinations of different periods flickered before my eyes. I ran with buffalo, crossed rivers, dodged traffic, and saw a herd of brontosaurs in the distance as I raced toward the light. I smashed into the infinitely high wall and beat away at the smooth stone. The hallucinations intensified. I cried out until my throat ached as the wall flashed in and out of existence every other moment. I collapsed to the baked earth and sobbed.
I awoke in a white room on a cold, metal table. Almost immediately, the nearest wall slid open. A tall, slender man in grey scrubs stepped into the room. Despite his perfect smile, I couldn’t help but feel offput by the man. His milky caramel skin, sharp features, and impressive height gave the man a strikingly handsome appearance, but something wrong lurked behind his dark grey eyes. The man spoke in a melodic language that sounded almost like English.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
A silver device around the man’s neck glowed green for a moment before blinking blue. “Do you understand now?” the man asked, the neck-band flashing blue with each word.
“Good,” the man said. “I am Dr. M’humad Won. Do you know where you are?”
“No,” I said.
“You are in a treatment facility at Avalon Observation Colony. I have cared for you, treating your chronal devation syndrome.”
“Chronal devation syndrome,” Dr. Won said. “A form of time sickness caused by Clemens radiation produced by the device on your wrist.”
I didn’t say anything. The the doctor said didn’t truly sink in.
“You should be fine now,” Dr. Won said. “However, you will suffer further radiation poisoning if you continue to use that crude temporal device.”
“Seeing as this thing’s damaged,” I said, “what happens with untreated CDS?”
“One would simply cease to exist. Those suffering from Clemens-induced chronal devation blink in and out of time until they eventually disappear completely.”
“So, they spontaneously time travel until they get stuck somewhere between two times?”
“Spontaneous temporal transference is a symptom; however, the afflicted do not simply become trapped in time. Sufferers of CCD reach the point where they skip so rapidly and randomly they become undetectable within any point throughout the know timelines.”
I left the questions there. Dr. Won provided me with a jumpsuit and shoes similar to his own. With the push of a button on the wall, a cube hovered from the floor. The cube opened on its own, and I dug through my things inside the cube. I strapped my military bags around my waist, pulled my aviator goggles over my forehead, and tied Grasscutter to my hip. Dr. Won led me through the immaculate hallways. The doc put me on an elevator and directed the computer console to transport me to temporal engineering.
The majestic city of Avalon sped by through the transparent walls and floor of the tiny room. Instead of an elevator, apparently I stood in a pod that launched through a series of tubes around the colony. The trip induced sickening dizziness as I watched the outside world move by at breakneck speed, but I never felt any movement or acceleration.
I stumbled into the engineering department. The engineer Vazmone — Vaz — greeted me with a perfect smile. The only thing that differentiated her from Dr. Won was her blue jumpsuit, breasts, and her hair. Cropped black hair covered the top of Vaz’s head with intricate, triangular waves shaved into the sides. A ponytail sprouted from the crown of her head and fell to her hips. Much like Won, Vaz looked strikingly beautiful, almost angelic. All of Avalon’s inhabitants had been genetically engineered to survive Earth’s volatile climate. Clearly, aesthetic adjustments had also been made in the process.
“I have to admit,” Vaz said as we sat at her desk, “I am profoundly excited. The physicians estimated that you’re from the twenty-first century. You’re like a pioneer of time travel. Also, working with temporal devices is exceedingly rare since they’re heavily regulated and illegal to use without approval. This is something I’ve only dreamed of doing.”
Vaz took my hand and examined my chronometer. Her eyes tripled in size. Vaz pulled on a mask and gloves from her desk. “Unsurprising you had cids,” she said. “That is an immense piece of cletonium. That mineral fragment could power this whole city for at least a month, if not longer. It’s not shielded at all. I’m surprised you aren’t dead.”
“How do I shield it?” I asked.
“Ryanium didn’t exist yet in your time,” Vaz said. “I suppose any precious metal could filter the radiation. Platinum or paladium work best, but you could get the job done with silver, maybe.”
“You’re saying I need to build a catalytic converter for my time machine?”
“I don’t know what that is.”
“Nevermind. Filter with precious metal. Got it. Can you fix it?”
“Yes,” Vaz said, “without question.”
Vaz opened the faceplate on my chronometer. She pulled a monocle over her mask that from my point-of-view seemed to give her diagnostics and magnified views of my device. Vaz spent an uncomfortable amount of time examining the inner works of the crude machine. I tried to tear my hand away as Vaz reached for a small piece of copper in the machine, but I was too late. Vaz’s tweezers touched the bit of metal, and a wave of blue light engulfed us.
I slammed into soft sand on my back. The entire Milky Way spread through the night sky in all its glory. Vaz had shorted a regulator in the chronometer, overloading the machine. The device emitted a constant screech and the cletonium crystal flashed electric blue light. Vaz sat in the sand nearby, sobbing. She had probably just ruined her life, but hey, I got something great out of it. Now I knew my TDS could transport multiple people at once. I was sure Vaz would not care about that.
Sitting up, I leveled my meanest glare at Vaz. “You done fucked up,” I said.
“Where are we?” Vaz asked as she tore her mask off.
“No idea. Maybe really far in the past. Maybe really far in the future. Maybe it’s the eighties and we’re just in the middle of Arizona. I don’t rightly fucking know, Vaz.”
Vaz continued to bawl. I tried to orient myself, but all the stars looked off. I was completely lost, and now I had additional baggage. The chronometer still whirred and vibrated constantly on my wrist. I’d probably jump any second without warning. Fuck me.
I sat in the sand with Vaz and wrapped my arm around her shoulders. “Cheer up,” I said. “We’ve got this beach all to ourselves. I could build us an ocean-side cabin. We could live here, maybe pop out a couple kids.”
“I’m unable to sexually reproduce,” Vaz said while she wiped tears and snot from her face. “All Avalon citizens are sterile.”
“Well, that’s probably for the best.”
“I could fix your device still.”
“You’re not touching this thing.”
Leaving Vaz, I walked inland. Black sand dotted with random patches of stones stretched to the horizon. I found a small cave dug into the sand deep enough to park a school bus inside. If I could find something to burn, the cave would make an acceptable place to sleep. As I climbed from the cavern back to the sand, a blood-curdling screech ripped through the air.
The creature looked like a plump, spike-covered tick the size of a car. Giant pincers and tentacles surrounding its mouth convulsed wildly as it stormed across the sand. When the beast came within a few yards of me, I drew my sword and swung with all my might, unleashing a wave of blue light at the monster. The blast sliced through the air, hit the creature’s hard exoskeleton, and bounced into the sky. I rushed the demon tick and buried my sword hilt-deep into the mass of teeth and tentacles I assumed to be its mouth. Tentacles lashed and beat against me. One tentacle stabbed into my side below my ribs. I wailed in agony. I dragged my sword across the beast’s face and unleashed a wave of energy on the animal’s innards. Blue light tore from the demon tick’s side.
I weakly ran away as the demon tick screamed and bled on the sand. Pain shot in waves from my bleeding side with every step. I repeatedly jammed the button on the chronometer trying to jump through time to escape. Bleeding from its facial fissure, the demon tick bellowed and charged. I screamed as I pulled on the power deep within Grasscutter. A torrent of wind issued from the blade. The gust launched the tick across the sky.
I sprinted back to Vaz as best I could. “You’re severely wounded!” she said with wild eyes.
Sliding to my knees in the sand, I latched onto Vaz’s should and frantically tried to activate the chronometer.
“C’mon,” I begged, “work. You toss me through time constantly. Just do it right now, goddamn it.”
“What’s wrong?” Vaz asked as she press her hand against my hemorrhaging side.
I recoiled. Agony pushed me across the sand. At that instant, the cletonium in the chronometer glowed the brightest it ever had. The crystal exploded. Magnificent blue light bathed me. I burst into several million bits. The bits rose into space. The swarm of particles flattened and wound into a single string thinner than an atom. The string launched across and out of the universe.
I watched and felt myself be born and die. I saw and experienced everything. Flashes of fire and the smell of brimstone filled me. Glowing beings with four heads and six wings flew across the Nothing. I was reborn with the universe. Everything became me as my string spread throughout Nothing. All of time flashed around me like a maelstrom of light made from trillions of snapshots.
Something tore me violently from the Nothing. I slammed onto a stone floor, dazed and hyperventilating.
After seemingly hours, a voice asked, “Are you still in shock?”
I looked up at an insanely old man in green and silver robes. The pasty, leather-sack of a man carried a glorious gold and crystal scythe with an infinity symbol etched into the blade. A silver hourglass filled with electric blue sand weighed down the ancient man’s neck.
“Who’re you?” I asked.
The living fossil pulled me to my feet with surprising ease. “My name is Chronos,” he said in a voice that boomed but soothed. “Elder god. Lord of Time.”
“As real as you are.”
“Where am I?”
“My demesne, the Sands of Time,” Chronos said. “I observe all of Time from this point. You’ve been quite busy since that old hag damaged your device.”
I shuddered. “I had sex with that hag,” I said.
“What’s your point? You’ve lain with plenty worse all over my precious Time.”
Chronos pointed behind me. I turned to face a giant ball of light floating at the center of the room. The shifting sphere looked like a living, convulsing mass of electric blue plasma. Random arcs and offshoots came to life, branching off the main body. Other tangents collapsed, disappeared, or simply broke away from the sphere before evaporating.
“Before you and those like you came about,” Chronos said, “time was like a spider’s web. Time was an intricate fractal like a chain of snowflakes. Multiple branches and paths existed, but ultimately all the timelines reconnected at one of just a few inevitable outcomes. Now, thanks to temporal travel, that beautiful fractal has divided and sprouted off so many timelines the stream has become a giant sphere of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff.”
“Timey-wimey stuff?” I asked. “Seriously?”
Chronos looked at me crossly. “On a positive note, fusing with Time healed your wounds. I’m surprised it didn’t kill you.”
“I fused with the time stream?” I asked in bewilderment.
“Indeed,” Chronos said. “For a moment, you were Time. Unfortunately, I’ve no idea what effect it’ll have on you since you’re the first that’s happened to. There’s a chance you might age a thousand years at any point. Maybe you’ll turn to dust or revert into a sea monkey. Who knows?”
“I’ll take my chances,” I said. “Any chance you could send me home?’
“Typically, those lost in time simply remain that way,” Chronos said. “Although, I suppose you’re not a typical case. I’ll send you.”
Green light poured from the ancient god and spilled over me. With a loud pop, I landed on my feet inside the elevator-like time machine. I stepped out into the lab. I breathed in the musty basement air, pulling in the smell of books and rust and sawdust. Something caught in my throat, and tears rolled down my cheeks.
After several minutes of gentle sobbing, I collected myself. Back in the Temporal Displacement System, the lock on the chronometer disengaged. I hung my sword and goggles on a workbench with the chronometer and left the lab. I climbed the stairs into the house, stopping to grab a drink. I went to my bedroom and sat at my desk.
I turned on my computer and dug through the back of my closet. Buried under shoes and old school awards, I found a bundle of charcoal cloth. I had never worn the gift from my friend, Ashley. Bright red letters spread across the dark chest of the hoodie spelling out B-B-J-C. I pulled the hoodie on. The material felt like the softest, most comforting thing I’d ever experienced.
I sprawled across my bed. How could I possibly go back to just being a high school student after all I’d experienced? I jumped from the bed and spun around in my desk chair. I drummed my fingers on my desk while contemplating how boring normal life must be compared to what I’d done. I opened the browser and searched for cheap sources of precious metals.