TIME TRAVEL LITERATURE is always highly scrutinized by its rabid devotees and often labeled mere FANTASY if it lacks ‘Hard Science’ that fails to address the normal, inherent pitfalls of the genre such as Paradox, Alternate Timelines or a set, believable Working Theory and Hardware, etc.
Yet, I often employ this very distinction as MISDIRECTION in the EPIC FABLES on the ELASTIC LIMIT of TIME, by setting up a ‘Fantasy-Like Scenario’ that proves not to be the case when the resolution is later revealed.
I find this Literary Device very effective, adding a larger, unforeseen twist to the overall TIME TRAVEL plot.
For example, here’s the INTRODUCTION to PIERCING the ELASTIC LIMIT.
It seems to portent a very Fantasy-Like story.
Of course, after further discovery, one learns that it's strictly SciFi, after all:
It had been hot of late, oppressively so, with little wind to speak of. The worst of the day’s stifling heat was past, but it was still uncomfortable outside. The summer sun’s abundant radiation, earlier absorbed by the earth itself was now rising, the warmed ground freely releasing its heretofore-trapped energy.
The humidity was thick and constant, hanging in the air. It clung to the body as a glove would, enveloping, embracing. One could easily, physically feel the clammy atmosphere’s presence surrounding you, as if in a sauna.
This seasonal pairing was nothing new, as it was always hot and humid during the summer months. Yet the copious sweat generated by virtue of the high temperatures provided no accompanying cooling relief, for it was so sultry that any produced perspiration failed to evaporate. This was nothing new, either.
Nevertheless, the boys were enjoying themselves. A dozen or so of them were running around the giant magnolia tree centered in the deep lawn of the spacious back yard. Each was shirtless and most were barefoot, although a few youngsters had on flip-flop-type sandals or scruffy tennis shoes with no socks.
All were wearing shorts of some sort, typically hand-made cutoffs of one type or another. Many of these were well-used jeans, relegated to the task because their now absent knees could no longer hold patches, but there were some old sheared-off dress pants too, also well beyond their better days. A few of the boys wore only frayed and faded swimming trunks.
The trunks were dry. Swimming wasn’t in the game plan for the neighborhood boys today. The nearest available pond was a few miles off, and no adult was inclined to drive the dusty road leading there in this stationary mugginess.
Besides, in this heat walking that distance would be quite a trek, especially on the way back. Any respite achieved by swimming soon would be bleached out of you by the return trip. The kids would just be worse off for the effort, not better.
Still, one never knew. There was always the hose or sprinkler in a pinch, but the playing boys were unconcerned. They had a different agenda scheduled for this afternoon.
From the screened porch on the back of the house the man and the woman were looking at the youngsters in the yard below. The oscillating fan on the corner table gave them little comfort. It just blew the steamy air around.
“What,” asked the man, “did this doctor say?”
The man’s daughter turned her head to look at him but he didn’t notice this movement. He still stared towards the boys beyond, hectic and excited in their play. He appeared tired, although she knew there was little reason for him to be.
“There’s no change,” she answered him.
Her father didn’t react to this unhelpful statement. He looked as if he hadn’t heard it, but she knew that he had. He was elderly but still engaged, and he didn’t miss much.
She drew a breath, adding, “He may never change.”
This announcement caused him to purse his thin lips, but again he didn’t respond. How does one respond to such news? It was nothing but a waste, a sad, sad waste.
“The bastards,” he spat at last, as if it were the doctor’s fault.
Finally he turned his head and looked at her, demanding, “How, if they can’t explain it, do they know he will never improve? They can’t even say what’s wrong with him. And they’re the experts?”
She met his eyes, unafraid of the truth. The last few years had steeled her. She would never be the same.
Long ago her sense of surprise had given over to despair, and then that despair, deep and hurtful, to anger. But that was gone now, too. Over time she had become a realist, had been beaten by circumstances into being a realist in order to survive the total ordeal, to continue on in some normal fashion.
Her father knew this, of course. It was another thing that he didn’t like. It was just one of the many things that the man couldn’t reconcile, or even begin to reconcile.
“He’s not backward, I tell you,” he emphasized with a stony face, as if to convince her, which was moot as well as ridiculous. “He’s got insight sometimes, and humor. How do these so-called professionals of yours explain that?”
“No one,” she said slowly, hitting each word more for emphasis than for information, “can explain anything. That’s the point exactly.“ And then, continuing in her normal cadence, she added, firmly but quietly this time, “You know this.”
His reaction was a grimace and a sad shake of his head. He realized that he was beaten, and to no good end. The boy was just an innocent, a bystander of the unknown.
The whole thing was beyond pointless.
She looked out to the huge magnolia, its leafed limbs thick and to the ground, showing no trunk. It dominated the equally expansive back yard, long ago trimmed of any other trees or shrub. The surrounding lawn, large, newly cut and lush from over-watering, framed it nicely.
The boys were busy playing about the tree, screaming and laughing at each other. She knew that he was down there, although she didn’t see him at first. Then she saw his older brother in the branches and knew that he had to be close, and she was once again grateful and relieved that he was always well looked after.
“He’s a wonderful kid,” her irate father said with vehement finality, and mostly for his own benefit.
“So is his brother,” she answered him with equal vigor. “They’re both good children. You know that, also.”
The adults watched from the porch as the young boys, by ones and twos, disappeared from view by melting within the leafy boughs of the giant tree. It was the perfect playhouse, a natural fort they loved and used often. Inside the periphery, the long branches lost more leaves the closer they came to the smooth, ancient trunk of the magnolia, and this created a dream-like setting.
The bulk of the sun’s relentless rays were cut off there but it was easy enough to see within the shadows. It was also a little cooler, the air still and contained, buffeted from the outside heat. It was a sanctuary, and they all relished the calm it engendered.
The branches were numerous but spaced far enough apart to afford easy seating for all of the boys. They were quiet and waiting now, dispersed about and looking like hanging ornaments placed there at random. Most were smiling, either to themselves or with others, in quiet anticipation of what was to come.
The older brother moved to a well-worn seat on a limb near the fort’s center, across from his younger sibling, who sat on another branch. This boy’s arm was curled around the tree trunk, hugging it close, his cheek pressed into the bark. His eyes were vacant, widely open but staring off at nothing.
The younger boy’s face was also unique among the assembly, as currently his alone was unsmiling.
Once seated, the bigger brother extended his arm behind him and kept it there, waiting. Several of the boys then passed an old quart pickle jar between them until it reached his outstretched hand. He slowly raised the jar up and then about, using a steady and deliberate movement for all the boys to see.
The clear glass revealed that the jar was not empty.
The old man now sat alone. His daughter was resting, seated in the next room, stealing a few minutes before her daily dinner routine began. The only sound was emanating from the fan running on the porch, rhythmic and constant.
He was still looking out at the backyard scene but his attention was elsewhere. The man had faced enormity before, and in myriad ways. But this circumstance was different.
Now there was nothing to debate, or fight.
It was true that in his long history he had grown in ways which he had not, could not have conceived beforehand, but that insight gave him little solace now. His extensive life experience, rich and varied far beyond the norm, yielded in this instance no commiserate wisdom. And his best tool, his brilliant mind crammed so full of knowledge, was useless against this onslaught.
Unaware of what he was doing his hands tightened on the arms of the chair, his long fingers gripping, the tips digging in. There had to be a reason, an explanation, there had to be. In his long experience, there always was.
Inside the tree fort, the older boy moved the jar before his brother’s face, breaking into his field of vision. He held the vessel by its hole-poked lid, leaving an unobstructed view of the large insect inside. It crawled, its six legs slipping, with a deliberate but awkward pace about the contained circumference of the pickle jar.
For the first time the younger boy became engaged. He first intently peered at the bug behind the glass and then about at the other boys, as any normal kid might do, to see if they shared his sense of awe. They did, but for a different reason.
“Can you do it?” his brother whispered. “Can you do it now? Can you call the angel here, now?”
“Oh, sure,” the smaller boy answered him. He also whispered, and adding a nod of his head he followed with, “It’s easy to do it now. It gets easier every time.”
“He says yes,” his big brother announced in a louder voice, to everyone. This anticipated news was well received by all those present. Each of them loved to see it.
The older boy adjusted his grip to palm the jar proper, while he used his other hand to remove the lid. His sibling uncurled from the ancient tree trunk and extended both of his hands outward. He interlocked his fingers above the open rim.
The brother holding the pickle jar next shook it with a slight but firm flick of his wrist. The large bumblebee inside stopped its ponderous routine at this abrupt interruption. After a few seconds it tested its wings with a buzz, then took flight and in slow circles rose into the younger boy’s caged fingers.
The elder brother then leaned back and removed the now empty jar. He waited, as all the anticipating boys did, with gripped attention. He also loved to watch this show.
The insect, now buzzing in earnest, bounced about inside his kid brother’s palms, investigating the new area created therein. The bumblebee was easily visible to everyone through the gaps in his fingers but most of the youngsters adjusted their stance some, so as not to miss anything. It would not be long now, they all knew.
In the house the old man’s daughter was restless, her magazine doing little to distract her from her current demeanor. Tossing it to the side table, she saw a framed picture there of her parents in an earlier age, and realized once more how much she missed her mother. They had been very close, but more so her mother had always handled her father as no one else had been able to do.
Her now absent parent had been the strongest person that she’d ever known. The woman had been unshakeable. Nothing had ever taken command of her destiny, despite the tempestuous nature of the life that she and her husband had long shared together.
Against all odds the intrepid pair had never been defeated, but now that her mother was gone, it seemed as if her beloved but tormented father was slipping away, also.
So it was he that she feared for most now, not her sons. No, she knew the boys would make their way despite the difficulties. The brothers had a suitable trust fund in place, and future contingencies had been planned for.
True, her younger child proved more problematic, but she knew that both of them would cope in their own way in the long run. The woman was not so sure of the old man on the porch. She had never known him to be so bitter, so hateful of life.
Nothing in the past had ever affected her parent in such a devastating and relentless way. It was not like him. He was lost in his misery, but she was at a loss as well, in terms of helping him alleviate his now endless suffering.
Yet she was the one who had to be strong now, not only for her boys’ sake but also for her father’s. She had to be, for there was no one else left to care. Once more she yearned for her mother, the firmest friend that she’d ever known.
Within the tree fort the anticipation was palpable. All eyes were glued on the young boy. His arms were held aloft, his concentration still focused within his fingers that contained the slowly hovering, buzzing bumblebee.
Suddenly but almost imperceptibly at first, the scene began to change. The atmosphere about the boy’s hands became distorted and the visual detail there was lost, replaced by an ever-growing brilliance that slowly permeated outward. The temperature within the tree’s limbs dropped a good ten degrees.
Every hair on every boy’s neck now stood to attention as they watched, and all of them, as if each rehearsed to do so, held their collective breath at the unfolding spectacle.
As the distortion grew to encompass the youngster, the sound began. It was a shrill, sharp note that increased in volume until it approached a near painful level. Then, with a pop the relentless tone ceased and the distortion became complete, enveloping what had been the boy but what was now only a blur of sharpened radiance in the area of where he once was.
The new image then started to form. Faint at first, it quickly drew richer in detail as the seconds passed by. The angel emerged just where the boy had been, shimmering with slow motions within the ever-undulating distortion.
The figure’s lips were moving but no words were projected, and none heard. It looked about in a distracted sort of way, as if it were searching for someone or something, all while the muted mouth opened and closed. The angel’s dark hair, thick and unruly, radiated with light as his large head slowly articulated.
The image, now floating in space, was striking to see, but imprecise. The fluttering likeness resembled the reflection that would occur within the ripples of a wake-filled pond. Yet it appeared backlit, starkly framed within the glimmering brilliance.
It was this illumination that the old man on the back porch first noticed. Out of the corner of his eye it pulled him from his absorption, his defeated musings. He leaned forward in his chair, all of his concentration now engaged by the piercing light filtering through the inner depths of the massive magnolia.
The leaves of the giant tree were in motion he noted, moving in a slight, erratic pattern even though the wind was not blowing. The juxtaposition was eerie and seemed out of place. The twitching foliage danced in perfect syncopation to the droning beat set by the oscillating fan still purring behind him.
Without his knowing why, his heart began to race. Responding to the adrenaline already flooding through his body, the hair on the back of his neck shot up. Yet his attention, now riveted was in fact slowed, his focus piercing, honing in.
Then the realization struck him.
His daughter was still in the next room when she heard his anguished cry, guttural and stilted. It scared her. She thought that he was having some sort of an attack, perhaps his heart, she feared.
He was standing when she reached the threshold, still looking toward the tree. His face, handsome even given his advanced age, was taut. He turned to look at her as she leaned against the doorjamb, a horrified mask now framing her own features.
“No,” he said in reassurance, “I’m alright.”
This accomplished nothing, for she was still upset. But as she glared at him searching for an explanation, she observed a change in his demeanor. He became calmer, his aspect relaxed.
Then he did something, something that he had not done in ages. In hindsight, she had thought she that she would never see him do it again. Her father smiled at her.
“Everything’s going to be fine,” he said.
“What do you mean?” she asked him, incredulous.
He turned his head, once more glancing at the tree. The strange light within it had faded away, and its large leaves were again unmoving. It all made perfect sense to him now, it all fit into place.
“I understand,” he answered. He crossed his long arms, at last satisfied. Then he added, “I know what’s happening."
The man, the mystery, the time traveler, and epic fable author