Hail fell over the rabbit warrens in the dead, brown field. Metal roofs over the nearby brick outbuildings rattled like gunshots with each impact of the fist-sized balls of ice. No one was around, the buildings themselves abandoned decades ago when the nearby quarry ran out of high quality quartzite. It was a dark and dreary place made no better by the storm.
In the right hand corner of the field a massive bolt of lightning struck a lonely metal pole that was once the host of an electric arc lamp, causing radiating lines of intense heat to run through the soil. Burning tufts of dry grass were extinguished quickly by the ice, and steam rose up from the charred steel remains of the post. It was at this moment that a human figure moved out from behind one of the shuttered storage sheds, a distinctive black and red helmet ensconcing their head, a reflective gold faceplate showing in exaggerated distortion its surroundings. Chunks of hail bounced off of the headgear, and in the time it took for the individual to cross from the opposite side, the storm began to abate. Soon only light sleet fell from the gray skies, coating the person as they stood looking intently at the site of the lightning strike.
The figure’s pose was one of intense observation, watching for something that was expected to happen but was not running on schedule. With the total cessation of the storm the helmet came off. Under it was a grungy looking male, his hair uncut and greasy, his face puffy and strained with a look of total exhaustion. “Fuck it! I can’t believe it didn’t come through with me!” He took a deep breath, eyes closed, seeming to savor the deliciousness of the cold and clean air despite his anger. He thought he knew what was going to happen. It had happened to every time traveler and will continue to happen to every time traveler: The United States government would send him a box of supplies and coordinates for the future retrieval of his research, all bagged and tagged, waiting patiently a century or more. Of course, he realized that his ‘mission’ wasn’t approved, or vetted by any commission or review board. He came here, to this time; to find out the truth with a capital T.
“I guess there’ll be nothing coming through.”
He waited, becoming aware of the smell of nearby cattle, watching the late October storm passing away to the south. He was beginning to come to grips with his situation. “I can’t stand the smell of bullshit,” he uttered under his breath to a large brown steer across the way. He turned and continued to stare at the blackened light post with its burned patch of ground, knowing that this journey would answer all of the questions that had been burning in his mind like an out of control forest fire. He knew too that there was no way back and he chuckled to himself, finally he was free to know. Finally accepting that nothing was going to appear out of the ether, he began to sing out loud”… When the deep purple falls over sleepy garden walls and the stars begin to flicker in the sky…” and he walked away toward the vibration of cars traveling on a nearby stretch of road.
Steven was still dazed from the strange ordeal of blasting into the past on a bolt of lightning. As he walked towards the sound of the traffic ahead, he looked down at his tennis shoes, white Chuck Taylors-still popular in the late 21st century as they would be in the here and now. The “highway” was more of a barren stretch of oil-stained concrete with a lone green sign indicating that the town of Mount Vernon, Texas was just ahead; he was careful to avoid the cracks and potholes. In the two full hours of his walk toward town, only one rusted Ford pickup passed him by, the ancient driver avoiding eye contact. It was cold, much colder here before the onset of global warming, but his vintage leather jacket provided enough protection to stave off hypothermia. Ahead of him he heard the chiding laughter of children playing on a large field still studded with the remains of the hail storm; the ragged bunch busy throwing the sharp chunks at each other in a state of total nirvana. He smiled to himself, pleased to see that children of this decade acted the same as ones from his own.
Eventually he came to the edge of town and stood overlooking the rundown brick buildings lining a large, square park; the strange onion dome gleaming dully on top of a Greek rival courthouse which chimed out the time, four ringing tolls. He wandered down the Main Street to find a shop or diner where he could take a look at a calendar, but instead he found a newspaper with which he could nail down the exact date and year he was in; it was on a park bench, a wrinkled copy of the Optic-Herald for October 23, 1963. 1963, “Jesus Christ, I made it,” he whispered holding the paper at arm’s length. With something approaching ecstasy he began to chant: “I will finally know the truth.” No one was in the square to observe his strange behavior, for he began to dance a jig waving the newspaper over his head like the checkered victory flag after a particularly hard-won race.
The house stood back on the corner of the lot, lost in a sea of dead grass and the peculiar orange-red snow of fallen leaves from the ancient oak in the yard. The Queen Anne gables were rotting under a coat of paint applied during the Truman administration, and Mabel Lillian Lee was in no financial position to rectify the situation. She would gyrate in her wicker rocker on the front porch overlooking her holdings, musing about her long family lineage and imagining how Papa Lee would give her a long harangue about civility and putting forward her best face. “We didn’t fight and die against the Yankees just to let our homes and land degenerate from apathy!” His voice, his rich tobacco scented spittle, the old brass buttons on his waistcoat, tarnished and worn, was vividly projected in her mind. With each forward lunge of her chair she could hear dimly those echoes of the past. Mount Vernon was always the same, with rarely any change to mention in letters to her far-flung diaspora living in exotic Wisconsin and distant Iowa. Nothing interesting would happen to her in the next few years; of this she was certain, excepting Social Security checks and the grave.
Walking up from Main Street was a young man with a woefully inadequate jacket, his thick brown hair windswept into a mass of writhing tangles. He looked lost and for some reason she felt sorry for him, so she called out, “Hey youngin’ can I help you find what’re looking fer?” Douglas was startled, and looked up. He realized that he was stuck in the 1960s without any contacts – now was as good a time as any to find out more about his predicament. His primary goal could only be achieved if he managed to get to where he needed to be. And he was hungry.
“Ma’am, I would certainly appreciate any assistance you may provide.”
The inside of the house was filled with dreary dim light, the floors creaking and stained, the walls yellowing with layers of nicotine impregnated there over the decades. Despite the tarnish, the house was clean and well kept, and the smell of cornbread in the oven soon overpowered any disgust he may have felt. “Come on over here and have yo’self some of this food!” The old woman introduced herself as Miss Mabel and he was on his best behavior, not wanting to give away anything about when he had come from or what he was here to do.
“Miss Mabel, I am trying to get to Dallas. I am a, er, freelance photo journalist. I wanted to be there to do a piece on civic infrastructure.” It wasn’t totally a lie, more of a simplification about his true desires. In between bites of cornbread and real fried chicken, he listened as Miss Mabel went on and on about the state of affairs in the town and how her children never call and that the world itself was on its way out, or going to hell, or lost its moral compass. She couldn’t quite make up her mind on which it was.
After he helped her clean the dishes, she invited him into her small sitting room and powered on an ancient RCA television. He watched in wonder as the screen slowly warmed up to show in stark black and white a local news broadcast, it was then that it all hit home to him, the immensity of what he had achieved. He was sitting in a room in a house in Texas in the year 1963. He would actually learn the truth. All he had to do at this point was track down the man who would have all of the answers he sought. Desperately he hoped that he would allow him the opportunity to ask those questions. Miss Mabel found him a ride into the city and he left Mount Vernon, a new Nikon he bought in town with antique money from a future world, was strapped around his neck. Now he would find the man, yes, Lee Harvey Oswald was his best chance of knowing.
DALLAS, TEXAS 11/22/1963
It was all over. Everything that he had worked so hard to achieve, all of the time, all of the energy, all of it wasted. He tasted a metallic surge of adrenalin in his mouth and felt the sweat pouring in rivulets down his back, soaking his shirt through to his skin. He bent over and grabbed the unconscious form of Oswald, turning him over onto his back; his forehead bleeding profusely from where the Coke bottle ripped open the skin. With a straining grunt Steven found the strength to drag him behind the nearest stack of books and laying him there, stood up to look around him.
Outside the nearby open window, he could hear the voices of the assembled crowd below as they excitedly awaited the arrival of the President’s motorcade. “Why am I still here?” he said out loud. His mind raced to understand why the timeline hadn’t shifted, obviously he had prevented the assassination, and there was now no question that Oswald was to be the shooter…
What was it? He began to pace, imagining how fucked up the whole world will be from his own selfish stupidity! His pacing intensified until he kicked over the satchel that contained the Carcano carbine that Oswald was going to use. Looking down at the long brown-paper bag, he realized why he was still here. He would have to open that bag, load the bullets into the gun, aim to compensate for forward motion and pull the damn trigger. Internalized images of human brain matter glistening on the back of a limousine, of a pink coat splattered with crimson blotches like painted roses in a rainstorm. How could he be expected to do this deed? A wave of nausea hit him harder than Oswald’s kick to the stomach, and he began to wretch and cry simultaneously. Pulling himself together and turning away from the window to crouch over the gun, he began to methodically assemble the tool, his mind shutting off all other thoughts, his sanity dependent on detaching his consciousness from his flesh. He placed a small stack of history texts on the floor under the window and kneeled upon them, a position of supplication calling back from the future his past and what it meant to be penitent. The sun was strong, the milling crowds present in a rainbow of colors, the asphalt a river rushing along its predetermined course.
He brought the scope up to his eye, testing the sight to get a bead on his target. The adrenalin still coursed through his veins, his heart thudding so hard it threatened to crack itself out of his chest. His fingers shook so much that he had to bite his wrist to get them under some semblance of control. The noise of the crowd below alerted him to the convergence of the motorcade and he lifted his head up to see it with both eyes. Technicolor had nothing on the vibrancy of the scene in view, of the waving flags and blue-black reflections off of curved American steel. Waving from the back of that first car was Kennedy himself.
Everything came back to him. His humanity, Kennedy’s humanity, the people of the world who loved this man and what he was, what he could have been.
Steven sets down the rifle, deciding that he wants to see that car go by. He wants to see what happens to Zapruder’s film when there is no gore to make it valuable. He wants to hear what Kennedy has to say at the Merchandise Mart. He wants to watch if the war in Vietnam fizzles or pops. He wants to feel himself become sublimated into the 1960s and beyond. There may be nothing so sweet as watching the future unfold differently, with him taking the credit for stopping the potential assassination of the president of the United States.
He muses as he watches motorcycle cops fly by the window, he sees Kennedy’s beautiful white teeth glint in a reflected sunbeam off of polished chrome, watches his hand pushing brown hair out of his eyes, and watches as blood sprays from his throat, his head whipping back. The sight is terribly beautiful, like a waterfall of red falling up to the sky. His finger never touched the trigger.
He watches the black and white television flicker in the dim break room of the book depository; he listens as the news announcer takes off his black rimmed glasses to state, with tears in his eyes, that “the President has been pronounced dead at 2:33 PM Central time, doctors indicated that the bullet pierced President Kennedy’s brain stem…” the rest a blur of noise.
It was a conspiracy.
He had come back across the decades to find the truth.
He still had time to find it.
Christopher Bollinger has been writing for most of his life. Inspired by Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke, Mark Twain and Allen Ginsberg – he writes pieces that aren’t chained to specific genres. He is the author of five collections of poetry, short fiction, and essays which you can find here: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RJOERN6