CASTAWAY IN TIME
Francis Bolton saw the ghost while taking a hike in some woods around a lakeside trailer
park in Colorado. It was a swirling iridescent pillar of dim light, that stood off to one
side of the path. He walked over to see the ghost clearer. It spun silently in front of
Francis was a computer technician. He did not believe in ghosts, and wanted to know what
this thing was. He slowly reached out his hand to touch the light. It tingled where his
hand stuck in the light, not unpleasantly but noticable. He tried to pull his hand back
out, but couldn't. His hand felt nothing holding it, but he could not move his hand out. It
was like it was stuck in impalpable concrete. He yanked his arm and nearly fell down, still
unable to withdraw his hand a millimeter. So he reached further. He felt around with his
fingers and felt nothing but air, but when he tried to retract his arm he couldn't. So he
stepped into the light.
In an instant he dropped several inches and stumbled forward, landing on the ground with an
"Ooof!". He got up and looked around himself. The light was gone. Behind him was a large
tree. He had not noticed such a tree when he walked toward that light. In fact, the whole
area around him looked unfamiliar. There was not even a path.
He walked on in search of some familiar landmark, specifically the large boulder in a
stream by the bridge he normally used to mark his turn-around point. He soon found the
stream, and nearby was the boulder. But the path was not there. The bridge was not there.
But the boulder was there.
Francis turned around and, keeping the sun on his right, headed back toward the lake. He
was walking in a strange woods, but he did not know what else to do.
After about the length of time he expected, he came out and saw the lake. At least it
looked like the lake. It even had a tiny island off on one side, just like he had seen a
hundred times. But there were no mobile homes, just tents and cars that looked like the
ones he had seen in movies from the 1940s.
Francis walked over to the tents, over to a man tending a fire in a pit rimmed with rocks.
He said "Hello?"
"Hello" said the man. "What's the thing?"
Thing?...well nothing ventured, nothing gained. "I seem to be lost. Can you tell me where
the Sungleam Lake Mobile Home Park is?"
"Mobile Home Park? Well, this is a campground, but I never heard of Sungleam Lake Mobile
Home Park...this is Arbor Lake, so I would say you are quite lost."
"Arbor Lake? I never heard of that one. In fact, I don't know of any other lakes around
here but Sungleam Lake, and that looks like it."
"Well, mister, I answered your question, do with it what you want."
Francis walked across the tents, to find a woman and a couple kids eating at a picnic table
by a large tent. He went over and asked "Can you help me? I am looking for my mobile home
and can't seem to find it."
"Mobile home? What do you mean, mobile home?"
"You know, trailers."
Francis looked around himself, at the almost antique-looking cars. "Ah...what year is it?"
The kids laughed, and the woman edged away from him a bit. "Year?" she said. "It's 2013!"
Francis blinked, and thought "Of course it's 2013, what other year could it be! Must be an
oldie car convention or something!". He apologized to the woman and walked off to another,
empty picnic table and sat down.
A minute's thought convinced him it was enough of an emergency to pull his smartphone out
and call 911. It was getting late, and he did not want to be lost at night. He turned on
the smartphone and dialed 911. The number held on the screen for a moment and then was
replaced by "Signal Not Acquired". Francis tried again, and got the same result. "It must
be the location, I must be in a dead zone." He walked back to the woman and asked where
there was a telephone.
"There ain't any telephones in this camp. Who do you want to call?"
"I need some help...I seem to be lost. I thought I was at the Sungleam Lake Mobile Home
Park, but I can't seem to find it. I thought I could get a ride there from the police, but
maybe you could drop me off?"
"I don't know about any such place. Where do you live?"
"Where's that? Anywhere near here?"
Francis looked at her again. "Denver, Colorado!"
"Don't get garky, mister. I never heard of it."
"Lady, I'm serious. I can't find my car or trailor, and -"
"Look, Bub, you come here dressed in that weird looking undershirt, ask a bunch of nonsense
questions, and raise your voice to me. Get away from me or I'll scream."
The man came over. "Is this chimp bothering you, Miss?"
"Yes, mister, he's talking weird and scaring my kids."
"OK, chimp, get out or get flat. MOVE!"
The man was somewhat bigger than Francis, and he was outnumbered two to one, not counting
the kids. So he went to the dirt road that reached the car clearing and began walking down
it. He had to find someone sane eventually.
After a while he reached a road, paved with tar, and began walking toward Denver, or at
least the direction he thought Denver was in. After awhile he came to a small building with
a sign over it saying "Edgar's Eats". He was quite hungry, as it was past dinner time and,
as the sun was setting in the west, he went in and sat down to eat before calling the cops.
He sat at a table and a woman came over and gave him a menu. There was only a few other
customers...maybe he would get served fast. He looked at the menu...it featured something
called "trooples" and something called "grenchball" but also fish and steaks and such. The
prices were surprising, however, just four or five dollars for a meal. The waitress came
after a bit and he ordered a steak.
While he was waiting for his steak, he took out his smartphone and tried calling his
sister. He did not want to worry her or bother her, but that might be better than calling
911 for what they might not regard as enough of an emergency. Again, the screen came up
with "Signal Not Acquired " and this time, a flag came up a moment later saying "Low
Battery 20%". Francis only tended to need a smartphone charge every other night, and
tonight was to be the night. He turned the phone off again.
What is going on here, he wondered. Maybe I should have walked around Sungleam Lake? Or
Arbor Lake, as the guy called it? Was I at the wrong lake? What is happening anyway?
The steak arrived and he ate it quickly. Then he got up and went to the waitress and asked
"Can I use the phone here? My smartphone can't get a signal."
The waitress gave him a funny look and then said "Well...I'll ask Edgar." She went through
a door and a moment later opened it up and said "Come in."
Francis went in the door and found himself in a small office, with a desk, chair, and a
couple cabinets. There was an phone on the desk with a rotary dial. Francis looked at the
dial...it ran from 0 to 9 instead of 1 to 0, and had no letters on it. Francis hadn't used
a rotary dial since he was a boy, but that definitely did not look right.
"Well. you going to make a call?" asked Edgar.
"Oh, sure." Francis dialed his sister's number on the strange dial. A moment passed as he
listened to the earpiece. Then the phone said "That is not an assigned number in the Medary
District." Then the call disconnected.
"Sorry, I must have dialed wrong on this crazy dial. Let me try again.." Again Francis
dialed his sister's number, and again he got the same message.
"Look, chimp, just hang up the phone and pay for your meal." said Edgar.
"Sure." Francis said as he hung up the phone. He got the wallet out of his pocket and dug
out the credit card. "Here."
Edgar and the waitress looked at the card. "What the hell is this? Pay up!"
"It's my Mastercard. Don't you take credit cards?
"Whatever credit cards are, they don't get you out of paying for your food. Now pay!"
Francis pulled a five and a single out of the wallet. "Here. You can keep the change,
though you don't deserve a tip."
They looked at the bills Francis gave them. "Look, this is not funny. Quit it with the
jokes and pay for your food!" said Edgar.
"I JUST DID!" shouted Francis.
"Alice, call the police."
"Good! Call the police and they can get me back to the trailer camp!" Francis grabbed the
money back and sat down in the chair.
Alice picked up the phone, dialed some numbers and then said "Officer, there is a strange
man here who refuses to pay for his meal and talks crazy. Can you send someone over?" She
gave an address, and then hung up. "They'll be here in a couple minutes."
The cops took more than a minute to reach the restaurant...quite a bit more. While waiting,
Francis looked around the office. It seemed something was wrong...and then he noticed that
the electrical outlet on the wall had a socket with the two slots angled toward each other
like a broken V, with a round hole between them. He wondered why the socket was so weird,
but did not ask Edgar, who was standing over him like a thundercloud. Finally he heard a
distant "woop-woop-woop" sound, gradually getting louder. It stopped, and after a moment or
two a policeman came in the office. "Well, what is the problem?" he asked.
"This chimp ate a steak meal and tried to pay with some fake money." answered Edgar.
"It's not counterfeit" protested Francis. "I got it from the bank, or change in a store."
"Let me see your money." said the policeman.
Francis took all the money out of his wallet, three fives and four ones. The officer looked
at them and said "That is not counterfeit, all right, since it doesn't look remotely like
"Of course it's real money!"
"Look, money doesn't look anything like this. And I see Washington, but who's this other
fellow? Some friend of yours?"
"That's Lincoln! What is this, some sort of gag?"
"You're the gag. Who's Lincoln?"
"Give me back my money!" shouted Francis as he grabbed the bills and yanked them back.
Immediately the officer grabbed Francis' arm and lifted him out of the chair. "To the jail
cell for you, chimp!"
Francis thought an instant of fighting, but that gun in the cop's holster looked real, so
he went along with the cop out the restaurant and to the waiting police car, which had a
light on top but was bright orange, with lime green lettering "Medary Police Department".
He was hustled into the back, which had a screen separating it from the two cops. He
watched as the cops started the car, noticing that, instead of a steering wheel there was a
handlebar, like a bike. He stared out the car as they headed into town. The horizon looked
familiar, but none of the buildings did. Francis thought about this. When he was studing
for his degree in electrical and computer engineering, he had taken a course in quantum
mechanics. The professor described several theories of how quantum mechanics "worked", of
which one was formulated by a man named Everett, the same name as a high school friend of
his, which is why it stuck in his mind. It was called the Many Worlds Theory. Could that
ghost have been a portal into one of the many worlds, one without a Lincoln?
At the station, they took everything out of his pockets, took his fingerprints, filed
paperwork and performed the other rituals of placing a man behind bars. The guard took him
to a large cell with several grim men in it. He did not talk to the men, just lay on the
bunk and tried unsuccessfully to sleep.
The next morning was Sunday. The guard brought over a large radio on a cart, with a long
cord attached to it. The guard took the end of the cord to the wall and plugged it in, then
manipulated some dials and got several stations, till he settled on what turned out to be a
radio preacher. Francis did not pay particularly close attention, though he noticed whan
one of the men called out "Change the wave on that noline!" and the guard called back "The
noline wave stays, it's the Sabbath!". The day passed on. They brought lunch and dinner.
Finally the guard came and said "Francis, or whoever you are, the chief decided to give you
a break and let you out before Monday so you can get to work. But you try that trick with
the fake money again, and he says you'll be charged with counterfeiting and live in prison
a few years."
Francis said "Can I ask you a couple questions?'
The guard sighed and said "What?"
"What is the full date?"
"Sunday, June 23, Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Thirteen."
"Do you know a man named Abraham Lincoln?"
"Can't say I've ever met or heard of anyone by that name. Now go home and don't get in any
Francis made job one Monday be the finding of a job...any job. He walked the streets, going
into establishments and seeking employment. He hoped the old-time look of the world implied
a lessened reliance on documentation for employment, as he had no provenance in this world.
He was lucky, as it turned out...the third time was the charm, as he found work as a
dishwasher/cleaning person at a greasy spoon. He made a deal that he devote part of his
salary to eating the restaurant's food, and even got enough of an advance to thankfully let
him eat that day, after he finished work.
Monday night, exhausted, he slept in an alley next to the restaurant. When he woke up, he
asked where the local library was. It was a ways down the street, so he had some walking to
do. But of course, he had nothing better to do. At the library he began with history. He
was led to the Almanac of America by the librarian, as the best quick outline of American
History. It seemed like a World Almanac and Book of Facts, with more of an emphasis on the
United States. Francis wished he knew more about history, but he only had what he learned
in school, what he could remember of it.
The first thing he found different was that a "War of the Southern Secession" began in Dec
1850. Zachary Taylor lost the 1852 election to Democrat John Wittington, who made peace by
allowing the American Confederacy to form its own nation. Shortly thereafter there was the
Mormon Crisis over polygamy, when the defeated United States tried to enforce monogomy in
the Great Basin. Brigham Young had a vision, where he preserved polygamy and Mormonism by
making Deseret an independant nation and, with the precedent of the Confederacy and the
weariness of war, Whittington agreed. The maps in the almanac showed a much smaller US,
with Salt Lake City named New Jerusalem as the capital of Deseret and Seattle named
Jefferson City in the state of Jefferson. The capital of the American Confederacy was about
where Atlanta was in his memory, but was named Libertas. Denver, of course, was called
Medary. Medary only had a couple hundred thousand people, but Jefferson City had over a
million. Then on to work.
That night he asked his boss where he could stay on his pay, and if he could get more of an
advance on his salary to pay for it. The boss was not happy to be giving another advance,
but at at the low wage he was paying he would have a hard time replacing Francis, so he
gave directions to a lodging house nearby that he might be able to afford, and an advance.
Francis went there and found he could afford it. He quickly found out why he could afford
it...the place was run down and roach infested. But beggars can't be choosers.
Wednesday he headed back to the library before going to work. The change in history seemed
too recent to have retarded technology so. He asked the librarian for where the books on
the progress of technology were, and set to reading. In 1875 Elisha Gray invented the
telephone and the United States, still stinging from the loss of the Confederacy and
Deseret, established a Department of Science, Industry and Technology to support and
channel progress. Given that this was the same government that, in his world, ran the Post
Office, this should be good for a few decades just by itself. In 2013, at least, funding
for scientific research is directed by the SIT Department and to get it one must convince a
politician (never a scientist it seems, reading between the lines) that the project was a
"worthy" and not "frivolous" use of the taxpayer's money. It did not seem to be working
very well, since the SOTA here, at least in electronics, seemed to be vacuum tubes, here
called "Wilkins tubes".
Thursday morning, he devoted his library time to finding out the state of science,
specifically physics. If the technology seemed to be in the Forties, the science seemed to
be in the Twenties. No cloudy electron orbitals, just "electrite" orbits like a child's
drawing of an atom. No quantum mechanics, but he found "relativity" in the thirty-four
category book classification system under 7, the division for what was called
"parascience". This was a small book on "timespace" that seemed to be about relativity,
here developed by several people over a few decades in the mid-20th Century, along with
ones on "step physics" that turned out to be quantum mechanics, but a quantum mechanics
where events sent a signal both into the past and the future (1). Unfortunately, this shelf
of parascience also had books on ghosts, telepathy, precognition (explained by step
physics), sea serpents, and other such topics. There was nothing resembling UFOs, but there
was a lot on "entities", that seemed to be as variable in morphology as the creatures of
Monsters Inc. There were also a lot on "homunculi", reminiscent of his childhood books on
Littles (without the tails) or Borrowers. The books even had a few photographs and
"veronicas" (color photographs) of entities and homunculi. It was beginning to look like
his idea to invent the transistor might be more of a challenge than he initially thought.
Friday, Francis asked the librarian if he could borrow the library phone for a local call,
as he did not have one. She hisitated, then said he could. There was only one big
university in Medary, which he called and asked for the head of the electrical engineering
department. The librarian watched him as he waited, making him nervous. Finally, the phone
"Professor Mattingly here."
"Professor Mattingly, I am Francis Bolton. I have an invention idea that, if you help me
develop it, will win us the Nobel Prize."
"My good man, I am an American citizen. I have no interest in titles of nobility."
"Ahhh...yes. Well, I am an electrical engineer, and I have an idea for an invention which
will manipulate the flow of electrons-"
"I mean electrites. This device is solid, compact, low-power and very durable...it will
"I mean electrology. This-"
"And there is no physical way a device such as you describe could exist."
"You are obviously a mere crank. Good day!"
The "click" almost hurt his ear.
Well, that probably did it up good. He might never get backing now.
"Sir, was that some kind of coded communication? Are you trying to smuggle alcohol or
tobacco into Deseret? If you are using the library phone for an illegal purpose, I am
afraid I will have to turn you over to the police."
"No, no...just a wrong number. I will not bother you again."
Francis spent the rest of his time in the library researching the state of the world.
Europe had seen three Pan-European wars in the twentieth century, which left a swath of
communist red from Portugal to the Bering Strait. All three involved use of poison gas,
especially the last one, which featured nerve gas on a large scale. The British Islands
were still free, but had thrice had a generation decimated and had become a fortress nation
with its empire gone. There was an independant Quebec. Deseret was a Mormon theocracy,
while the American Confederacy was still a slave nation, although with almost all slaves
corporate or government. The Latin American nations made the banana republics of home look
good. China had had two Civil Wars and two mad emperors who both rivaled Mao for
bloodletting, and had hardly begun to recover. India was balkanized. Africa was a hellhole,
and seemed differently divided up, from what little he remembered of its map. The Arabian
Caliphate ruled the Middle East. Of course there might be propaganda in the material, but
nothing looked real promising.
Saturday was an extended, earlier work day for him, and the library was closed Sunday, so
he would not be able to investigate more untill Monday. As he walked to work, he noticed
that it had become quite colder. He had a miserable time walking to work. He had only
jeans, underpants, socks, shoes and a T-shirt, which got strange looks and an occasional
question why he wore the weird undershirt or sleepshirt with the picture on it, but his
boss did not care what clothes he wore, or the fact that he hadn't washed them in a week.
But at the rate food and rent was draining his salary, he would not be able to buy new,
much less warmer, clothing until well past winter. And winters are cold in Colorado.
When he got to work, he asked his boss for another advance on his salary. "What are you
going to end up doing, dipping into 2014 in a month? Budget your money and stop treating me
like a bank."
Francis took stock of his resources as he cleaned. He had his credit card, Denver Public
Library card, driver's license, health insurance card, AAA membership card, and a shopping
card in his wallet. All were plastic, but this world had plastic (or "amberite") cards for
a decade or so. The magnetic strips would not be readable. He silently cursed Colorado for
being one of the few states without holograms on their driver's license...a hologram would
be technology sufficiently advanced here. He also had a little worthless money. He had his
smartphone, but the battery was dead. He cursed himself for forgetting his quartz watch for
once when he went on his walk. He had nothing that could not be duplicated here, except the
smartphone, and since it no longer worked they could probably devise a paperweight that
looked just like it and did what it did now...which was nothing.
Maybe he should just come out and say what he was? That would put him in the loony bin. And
from what he saw so far, society was still in the 40s as well as the technology...when
mental hospitals were little more than snake pits.
He began singing to himself, like he often did while he worked. He had a odd memory...he
could not remember text well, but hear a song once and he could recall it fine. His father
was an golden oldies fan and had played hundreds, if not thousands, of 1955-1975 popular
songs. But he would never see his friends or family again. The song that he sung to himself
was appropriate for his mood, but was not a hit...it came from a Christmas cartoon. He
began to sing it outloud...not badly, for singing in the choir was his hobby.
When you're alone, alone in the world. When you're alone in the world.
Blownaway leaves get blown in the world, swirled away leaves, get swirled.
Listening to your heels when you walk, making a lonely clack.
You donít know how it feels when you talk, and nobodyís voice talks back.
A hand for each hand was planned for the world, why donít my fingers reach?
Millions of grains of sand in the world, why such a lonely beach?
Where is a voice to answer mine back?
Where are two shoes that click to my clack?
Iím all alone in this world.
"Hey, that's pretty good singing! Where did you get that song?" asked the boss. He wasn't
about to say "From a TV special"...TV here was a few hours of "noline theater" a day in
Washington, New York, Chicago and Jefferson City bars. He didn't want to be called a
"chimp", much less get a premature psychiatric commitment. So he said "It's just something
"You should go into songwriting! That sounded nice, if a little sad. Do you do happy
"Sure...I can write a thousand of them!"
"Tell you what...I'll advance you enough pay to get some warm clothes, and to find and
contact a song publishing firm, if you give back ten percent of what you make."
"OK, I'll be glad to!"
He returned to his mopping for now, and so ended his first week as a castaway in time. And
maybe a successful songwrite could make enough money to finance the invention of the
(1) This interprestation of quantum mechanics is pretty much Cramer's Transactional
DRIZZLE DRAZZLE DRUZZLE DROME
TIME FOR THIS ONE TO COME HOME