The week went by slowly. Neil spent his days with more time than ever to mull over Lily. He thought about going back to her house, but he was terrified of getting caught, and figured it was hopeless. He also didn’t know how he’d get his mom to drive him there again without arousing her suspicion. He waited two weekends. When he’d figured it’d been a sufficient amount of time, he asked his mom again, telling her he and Amy were going to have a picnic.
“At night?” she asked.
“We want to watch the stars,” he replied.
“A picnic under the stars…” she thought. “Neil… It sounds romantic. But… Listen, Neil, I was young once. I know what boys and girls your age do when they’re alone.”
“What?” he blushed.
“Come on! I wasn’t born yesterday. And we haven’t even talked about that sort of thing yet. You’re too young to be doing that, Neil.”
“No, Mom!” he gasped. “No! That’s not what’s going to happen! I…” he cringed. “Mom, we’re just gonna’ eat and talk. I promise.”
She stared into his desperate hazel eyes. Slowly, she nodded. She knew she couldn’t tell him “no.”
“I… I remember, when your father and I used to do things like that. When we were your age, Neil.”
Neil looked away from her.
“I don’t want to know about that.”
“It’s no problem. I’ll drive you there tonight.”
She dropped him off at seven. She wondered why Neil always got there before her, but figured if he were hiding anything, it’d be that he was meeting her. In her mind, what could be more severe than that? So, he had to be telling the truth. When she drove off, Neil left the picnic basket at the edge of the woods. As he walked through the night to her house, the sun was just at its perigee on the horizon, coating the forest in a blanket of orange light. He knew that soon, the stars would be in the sky.
He could already see the moon hovering just above the trees. Tonight, it was full. He knew that meant the yard would be brighter, and his chances of getting caught were more likely. Still, he couldn’t spend another sleepless night dreaming of Lily. When he got to the tree line just before her front yard, he was coated with a mix of emotions. He was mortified of getting caught, and nervous to speak with Lily. The butterflies and nervous trembles wouldn’t abate, and he just wished he could calm down. He still didn’t know what he’d possibly say to her if he really found her sitting on the steps.
Now it was dark, the sun fully set, and the moon just barely hanging in the sky. The stars were gleaming, lighting up the yard in milky starlight.
Neil took a deep breath.
He bolted across the yard.
He made it to the side of the house.
He waited against the wall, terrified he’d been seen.
But nothing happened.
He sighed of relief. However, instantly, he was filled with a completely different nervousness. He slowly crept to the edge of the house. He was just about to peek around, when his heart soared. He froze, paralyzed in limerence and awe.
He heard her voice.
She was singing softly, a song he wasn’t familiar with. His entire body was coated in goosebumps. He couldn’t believe how pretty her voice was. It had gotten somehow better since sixth grade. It was smooth like satin, womanly and pristine. He leaned against the house, shutting his eyes and melting as the song stole his heart. It filled the night sky like a harvest moon. It felt like an eternity had passed when she finished at last.
To his disbelief, he realized there was a tear in his eye. He was covered in embarrassment and shame as he wiped it away.
He fiercely debated how to approach her, but more than anything, he was so happy he’d come. At last, wincing, he stuck his head around. He saw her sitting outside, her light brown hair swaddled by her signature blue bandana, her gorgeous eyes fixed on the stars in a peaceful gaze. She was intoxicatingly beautiful.
Trembling, he finally whispered, “L… Lily…”
Her head whirled around, and she stared straight into Neil’s eyes. Her eyes grew huge. She looked around quickly, making sure her father wasn’t around.
“She knows my name,” he thought in shock. “Hey…” he awkwardly waved.
“What are you doing here?!”
“I… I… I just…”
She got up, walking around the house. Now she stood inches from him.
“What on earth are you doing here?” she was enamored. “The most popular boy at school, standing in my yard. Am I asleep or something?”
He had no reply.
“Hello?” she waved her hand in front of his face.
“I’m really bad at talking.”
She noticed how nervous he was. She shook her head in disbelief.
“I… I don’t know what’s happening right now…” she looked into his eyes. “Why are you here? And… I mean, are you nervous?”
“I wanted to see you. I didn’t want to not see you all summer.”
She was wrapped with confusion.
“Listen,” she finally spoke, her emotions inscrutable in her tone, “my dad will kill you if he sees you here. I don’t know why you want to talk to me, Neil… You need to get out of here.”
“Your voice is amazing.”
“Oh… you… heard that?” she asked.
He couldn’t respond. He didn’t know what to say. She met his eyes.
“What’s your phone number.”
“I’m going to call you. If you went through all this trouble to talk to me, it’s probably important, right? Give me your number, and Thursday night, I’ll call you. My dad usually goes to bed early Thursdays because he has to get up early Friday morning. It might be kind of late, but I’ll have to be sure he’s asleep. Okay?”
“Yeah,” Neil nodded, in disbelief. “Okay.” He told her his number. “Do you want to write it down or anything?”
“No,” she replied, “it’s fine. I’ll remember. Now, you need to leave.”
“Thursday night,” she reminded.
He didn’t know how to depart. She looked nervously around the house.
“Okay, get going.”
“Yeah,” he nodded awkwardly. “Uh, goodnight, Lily.”
He crept to the edge of the house. He looked left and right, then booked it with all his might, moving faster than he ever thought possible as elation filled him with energy.
He couldn’t sleep the entire night. He called Terry’s house as soon as he got home, telling him all about what had happened. Terry was disappointed he didn’t check the tornado shelter, or ask Lily about what was in there, but he was happy for Neil that he managed to talk to her, and proud of him as well. When he told Oz next, he was a lot more surprised, but boisterous for Neil.
The rest of the week, Neil daydreamed about Lily. He couldn’t fathom that she was really going to call him. Still, part of him figured it was all a lie. She was never going to call, and just wanted him to leave. Or maybe she forgot his number. After all, she didn’t write it down. He didn’t know what would happen. All he knew was that he’d finally spoken to her.
When Thursday arrived, the day was endless; he couldn’t get his mind off Lily for a single second. By eight o’clock, he needed an excuse to stay in the kitchen where the phone was. He was scared to death she’d call when his mom was in the room. If she picked up and Lily told her her name, he knew she’d question him on if he were playing Amy, and he didn’t want to get into that conversation. He also just didn’t want her around when he was talking to Lily. Around ten, his mom finally went to sleep. He pulled a stool up to the kitchen counter where the phone hung on the wall. He was restless.
He turned on the radio and listened to music, pacing up and down the kitchen. At eleven, he sprinted to the bathroom, peeing with the door open to make sure he didn’t miss the phone call. At around midnight, he began to feel horrible nervousness. He was terrified she didn’t plan on calling.
At twelve-thirty, he was defeated. Still, there was a shred of hope remaining. He couldn’t walk away. He sat in the stool, his chin in his palm, his elbow sore from holding the weight of his head against the wooden surface for so long.
“Ring!” the sound terrified him.
His heart exploded as he gripped the phone and ripped it off the hook. He had to silence it immediately so it wouldn’t wake his mother, but now he had no choice but to answer it. He was paralyzed in horror. At last, he put it to his ear.
His heart skipped a beat.
“Lily,” he trembled. “Hi.”
“Hi… So… what did you want to talk about, Neil?” she asked quietly.
“She called!” he thought, repressing his urge to jump in the air and scream triumphantly. “She really called!”
“Um… I… I’m sorry. I’m sorry if this is weird. I… didn’t have anything I needed to talk about. I just, wanted to talk to you.”
She was quiet. “Why?”
“Why… Why don’t you have a dad. Where is he?”
“How’d you know I don’t have a dad?”
“I’ve never seen him. Something must have happened. Where… is he?”
“He… I’m sorry, I don’t usually talk about this,” he replied.
“You don’t have to.”
“No. I will. He… died. When I was three years old. He died in Vietnam in 1965. My mom got pregnant when she was seventeen. It was an accident. They’d been dating for three years, I think. He wanted to be an Olympic swimmer. My mom said he was a great. That if things had happened differently, he really could’ve done it.”
“Aww, Neil…” she replied. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. I didn’t know him. He was only seventeen when he enlisted in the Marine Corps. My grandfather forced them to get married, so I’d have a stable upbringing. He never got to participate in the Olympics. My mother says he enlisted because it would be a stable source of income, and if he died, she wouldn’t be left with nothing. He died four years later. He got to hold me three times. I never got to know him, of course, but… I just, wish he was around. It wasn’t… You know. A boy needs a dad.”
“I… understand, Neil…” she whispered.
“Sometimes, I treat my mother horribly. I just… feel like… it was her fault, for some reason. Why couldn’t she talk my dad out of it… Why couldn’t she talk her dad out of forcing him to do it. Maybe… he’d still be here right now…”
They were both silent.
“I have no right to complain. You lost your mom when you were seven- old enough to remember. I can’t imagine what that was like.”
“No… you can’t…” she responded mysteriously.
He felt slightly offended. He wondered what she meant.
“Neil… My dad… Isn’t well…”
“He’s… My dad is…”
Neil began to ponder the machine in the tornado shelter.
“What is he building, Lily? In the tornado shelter?”
“You know about that?!” she gasped.
“Last time I came to your house, he left the latch opened. Me, and Oswald, and Terry went inside. We couldn’t resist.”
“Last time?” she demanded, “What? Three of you saw it? And- god, how’d you even know where to find me? How’d you know I’d be back there? Why did you come? I don’t understand any of this.”
“I came because I like you.”
His eyes widened. His heart stopped. His fingers coated the telephone in a film of sweat. He couldn’t comprehend that he’d said it. But now that he did, he knew there was no going back.
“Lily… I’ve been into you since sixth grade. Your voice is so pretty. And you’re so pretty. And most of all, you’re just… different. Than all the other girls. They all just, fawn over me, like, they’re brainwashed. It’s annoying. None of them have a personality to me. But you… You’re so smart, and unique. I’ve been into you for years. And every summer, you’re trapped at your house the whole time, and I don’t get to see you. And I spend every day lonely because I wish I could see you.”
He regretted saying that last part. He was frozen, waiting for a reply.
“I… am so sorry. That was so weird. I’m sorry, Lily.”
“I don’t know what to say… Neil…”
“I knew you’d be on your back porch step, because of that poem you read in Ms. Larson’s class. I love it. I still remember it. It’s beautiful. I thought I might catch you outside, staring at the stars…”
“All this time… you were hung up on me? All the girls in the school like you…” she was evidently taken aback. “Amy, the most popular girl in school. And Valerie- she could be a model. And Taylor’s the smartest girl in our class. You could be with any of them. And you wasted your summers fawning over me?”
“Wasted…” he chuckled. “It… wasn’t a waste. Because… this is happening.”
“I’m not who you think I am.”
“What do you mean? What, are you an FBI agent?” he started to chuckle. “Or, an alien? Or a ghost?”
“No. An accomplice. To murder.”
He froze. He didn’t know how to possibly respond.
“Mm-hm. Not so perfect anymore, huh… My… mom’s death… wasn’t… an accident, Neil. I… can’t believe I’m about to say this…”
“You… don’t have to…”
“No. I want to. If you care to listen.”
“I’m not going anywhere, Lily,” he assured into the phone, leaning against the kitchen counter, heart racing.
“My father served in World War Two. Not in the way that you think. He was a military scientist in the Army. He worked with Albert Einstein himself. He was part of the Manhattan Project.”
“My father’s brilliant. A lot of people think that the Manhattan Project was only dedicated to creating the atom bombs we dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That’s not true, though. There were two primary focuses: one was the development of nuclear weapons. The other was an emphasis on temporal relocation- time travel.”
“Time travel…?” Neil was speechless.
“My father worked among many other scientists, attempting to build the first time machine. Their end goal was to reverse the damage done to Pearl Harbor. I don’t know much about it. My father doesn’t talk about it a lot. All I know is that when the atom bombs were built, the committee devoted to time travel was shut down. My father was restless. He was so close to unlocking the secrets of manipulating time. Ever since then, he’s obsessed over building that machine. All throughout my upbringing, he was working on it… Telling me stories of the places we’d go when it was built… To see Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. To see Jesus turn water into wine.”
“I can’t believe it…”
“My mother… was driven to insanity by his obsession with it. Every Friday, he goes to the junkyard and searches for parts, looking for hours on end. She said that ever since the Manhattan Project concluded their research, he was never the same. She honestly thought he was crazy. But… But the night everything went wrong… was when I was seven years old. I’ll never forget it… He came running into the house, yelling ‘It worked! It worked! I saw Lily!’”
“Yes… It was late, and I was supposed to be asleep. But I woke up to them arguing. I was on the stairs, listening. He just kept telling her it worked, and that he saw me at the grocery store. That I was fourteen when he saw me, and that meant that he eventually successfully built the machine. When she demanded to see proof, he told her that I had run away from him. Finally, she had enough. She told him that he had completely lost his mind, and that she couldn’t take it anymore. She said she was leaving, but he panicked that she was going to tell someone, and the government would find out. He grabbed her and threw her across the room. She landed on the table, and broke a glass… She tried to escape, but he was manic. He started screaming that she never supported him, and that he was tired of being called crazy by his own wife. That this was proof of his greatest accomplishment being realized, and all she could do was insult him… And then he stabbed her. With a shard of glass.”
“I saw everything. When he did it, he started to panic. He regretted everything. And so, he tried to kill himself. He took her body into his car, and drove off. I didn’t know that he was trying to kill himself. I… was so young… and scared… And I didn’t want anything to happen to him… So… I…” Neil could hear her sniffle as tears ran down her cheek. “I cleaned it all up. With bleach. All the blood in the living room and driveway. And said nothing about it.”
“You… You were seven… You didn’t know what to do, Lily…”
“He crashed his car into a tree. He hoped it would kill him. But it didn’t. When police found him, they thought she died in the car crash. They had no reason to think anything else. They rushed him to the hospital. Police came and picked me up. There was no trace of blood left when they got there. They took me to the hospital to see him. When we were alone, he apologized. He told me he was going to make it right. That he was going to build that machine to go back in time and stop it all from happening. And ever since, he’s slaved over building it. He’s constantly paranoid someone will find out, or that I’ll tell someone. That’s why he doesn’t let me go anywhere. Because I know how my mother died. And I know about the temporal relocator.”
Neil was at a complete and utter loss for words. At last, he whispered, “I… I’m so sorry, you had to experience that…”
“He’s gone, Neil. A zombie. He needs to be put into a home.”
“You… need to tell somebody…”
“I… can’t… I just… can’t…”
They were totally silent.
“Want to know something funny? Remember, how I was at the eighth grade dance? It’s because… I told my dad that if he didn’t let me go, I would kill myself.”
Neil said nothing.
“He loves me. Sometimes it’s hard to see that. But he does. So, he bought me a dress, and makeup. And showed me how to put it on, the way my mom used to. And it’s just so funny, because I went through all the trouble to go, and then I hated every second of being there.”
“For… what it’s worth, Lily… You looked beautiful.”
She paused. “Thank you, Neil.”
Once again, they were silent.
“Sometimes… I… wonder if he’s even building a time machine. Maybe he’s building a nuclear weapon… to just, end it all, and take everything else with him in his misery.”
“You need… We need… to go to someone. You can’t live there, Lily. He’s completely crazy. And you can’t spend your whole life trapped at home. Think about what he did to your mom… He loved her… But… when it came down to her or his machine… He…”
“I know. I know, Neil. I just don’t know how to get out.”
“We’ll get proof. Of the machine. Pictures, of all the writings, and the device itself. And then we’ll go to law enforcement. He’ll be put into a home, like he needs. And you can be free, and safe.”
“I’m terrified to do that.”
“I’ll do it with you.”
“Because… I care about you…”
“You don’t even know me, Neil.”
“Yeah I do. You’re Lily Brooks. You’re an undercover FBI agent, and an alien, and a ghost. You’re the best singer in this county, and second smartest in the class. You’re polite, and an amazing poet. And you like to stare at the stars and meander on Mars.”
“You’re a girl who’s been a victim of terrible things, but you’re selfless enough to endure it all for the sake of your father. To sacrifice your childhood so he can have peace of mind. You don’t deserve anything that’s happened to you. And you need help. And I’m here.”
“I… don’t know what to say.”
“What day should we do it? Oz’s dad has a camera. We’ll meet you, and go in the tornado shelter. We’ll get all the proof we need, and then you can move on with your life.”
“Oswald? And Terry? You want them there?”
“I… I need them there. I’ll never have the courage without them.”
“If… he catches us, he’ll kill us.”
“He won’t catch us.”
She took a long, deep breath. “Saturday. We’ll go Saturday. Most Saturdays, he gets really drunk and doesn’t leave the couch. I know where the key is to the tornado shelter. I’ll meet you at seven o’clock PM. On the back porch step.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Once again, they fell into a long silence. Neil sat in the kitchen on the stool, eyes shut, leaning against the phone. He could just faintly hear her breathing. At last, she whispered, “Well, it’s getting pretty late…”
“Yeah. It was awesome talking to you, Lily…”
“It was good talking to you too, Neil. Thank you. I’ll see you in two days, at seven.”
He hung up the phone. As he got to his feet and stretched his legs, his mind was swirling. He couldn’t fathom anything that’d happened: Lily talked to him. They’d stumbled upon a time machine. Time travel just might be feasible. And this Saturday, he was going to meet with her again. He could die if things went wrong. And if things went right, Lily just might be free, and he wouldn’t have to sit around missing her ever again.
Lily lay in her bed, wide awake. She couldn’t believe everything that had happened. Her mind was swirling. At last, she got to her feet. She walked into her kitchen, grabbing a cup and filling it with tap water. She drank it all, then leaned against the kitchen counter.
“Neil Hart… Had a crush on me… This whole time,” she shook her head in disbelief. “How on earth did that happen.”
She set the cup in the sink. She felt a strange inclination. She decided to follow it. It had been so long since she’d seen her mother. After the conversation tonight, she was all she could think about. She didn’t know if she’d be able to find what she was looking for, but she figured it was worth the look.
She grabbed a flashlight from the utility room, and then went to the attic.
She didn’t know how long it’d been since she’d been in there. She pulled the collapsible stairway down as quietly as possible, and slowly made her way to the top. When she got inside, she brushed a cobweb out of her face. She turned on the light, feeling nervous as the dark attic was partially illuminated, revealing piles of furniture and junk she didn’t ever remember seeing in her house. She stepped inside, and began looking around.
Sure enough, on a dresser in the back, covered in dust, she found it.
Her parents’ wedding album.
Her heart raced as she picked it up.
“Mother…” she whispered. “It’s been… I can hardly even remember what you look like,” she was ashamed to confess.
She opened it. The first thing she saw was a picture of her mother and father. Her mother was wearing the same blue bandana. Lily knew it was her mother’s, but it still choked her up to see her mother wearing it. She rubbed the fabric softly.
“This same bandana… was in that picture…”
She began to thumb through the pictures. Her father seemed so much happier in them. Before long, she was crying. She didn’t even know why. Then, to her shock, as she turned another page, a note fell out of the book. She shined the flashlight on the ground and searched for it, discovering it against a dusty cushion.
She picked it up, then gasped.
“This is…! My handwriting…!”
“What?!” Oz and Terry gasped in unison. “A time machine?!”
“Shh!” Neil hushed them.
The three walked up 19th Avenue in the warm summer sunlight, their usual Friday afternoon ritual. The neighborhoods all around were alive with children playing, the streets busy with teenagers on expeditions to nowhere, enjoying their summer vacation.
“Neil…” Oz whispered. “If Lily’s right… Then… You can’t really be serious! You could get killed! He’s a murderer!”
“We need to help Lily,” he implored. “Please, guys. You don’t have to come… But I don’t want to do it without you.”
“Neil…” Terry grabbed his shoulder, locking eyes with him. “Of course, I’ll be there! This is absolutely crazy! No way am I letting you do that alone!”
“Oz…” Neil met his eyes. “We need your camera… And you.”
Oz adjusted his glasses.
“Fine!” he bellowed. “Fine. I’ll go. But… But, we can’t get caught! Because, I’m only fourteen! I don’t want to die at fourteen.”
“We won’t, Oz. None of us will.”
“Consider this, you two… If everything Lily told you is true… Then, consider that Lily’s father really did build a time machine. And he really saw Lily that day. What happened? How did she end up in the past? She even said her father told her mother that the Lily he encountered was fourteen. If anything… this event… is probably what caused that.”
“Come on, Oz!” Terry replied. “You think that crazy old man built a real time machine? That’s impossible! All we need is pictures of it. He gets put into a crazy house, and Lily gets to live with someone else. Neil gets to see her, and finally shuts up about her, and we’re heroes for saving her! And we have the coolest summer story ever! What do we have to lose?”
“I… just feel so unsure. But… I’ll go. I’ll feel even worse if I don’t, and it’s clear there’s no stopping you.”
“Thank you, Oz,” Neil stared into his eyes intently. “Thank you.”
Oz shuffled away from his parents, grumbling, “I lied to them again…!”
“Hey, Oz,” Neil greeted. “Right on time.”
“Got the instamatic camera?” Terry asked.
“Yeah,” he replied, patting his backpack. “It has twelve pictures per film roll. I was only able to find one roll. So, we need to get everything we can with those twelve pictures.”
“Sounds good,” they nodded determinedly.
The three began their trek into the woods as the sun sank into the horizon. By the time they reached her house, it was almost fully set. It was just past seven. Lily was waiting on the front porch. When she saw them, she walked over to them, looking over her shoulder nervously.
“He’s… mostly asleep,” she explained as she reached them. “He’s pretty drunk. If we’re quiet, he won’t notice anything.”
“Is it really a time machine?!” Terry implored.
“Well he’s suddenly convinced, compared to before…” Oz thought. “Unless, he just denied the possibility yesterday to convince me to come along…”
“I don’t know,” Lily replied to Terry. “Let’s just get this over with.”
They walked across the yard quickly toward the latch. Lily’s mind seemed to be swarmed with something. She looked almost apprehensive. At last, they reached the latch. Lily opened the padlock. They crept down the stairs, shutting the entrance behind them, and when they got to the bottom, Lily turned the light on. Now they studied the time machine in awe.
“It looks… nearly finished…” Neil stared at it.
“All right,” Oz explained, “you three, find some good proof of what this is, and the science behind it. In the meanwhile, I’m going to take four pictures of the machine: one from each side.”
They walked around, scanning the dozens of papers sprawled about the room. After Oz took four sufficient pictures and stuffed them in his backpack, he asked, “Anyone got anything I should take?”
“Here’s a bunch of math,” Terry replied.
Oz took two pictures, each of different pages. Meanwhile, Lily walked over to Neil.
“Listen… This… this happened, already.”
“What?” Neil questioned.
“I… found a note last night. It was written by me. It was in my parents’ wedding album, where I knew I’d find it the night before today.”
“You… you’re serious,” Neil was at a loss for words. “What did it say?”
“Guys…!” Terry called them over. “You need to read this!”
Lily made nervous eye contact with Neil. They walked over to the journal.
“It’s a journal! It’s from World War Two! It’s about the first time they used this machine, during the Manhattan Project.”
“They built it back then?” Neil gasped. “It worked?”
“Apparently,” Oz nodded.
November 8th, 1943.
Operation Cronus begins today at 0900. The production of the Brooks Linear Temporal Relocator was, theoretically, a success. According to our calculations, it should be functional. Captain Krane will be the subject responsible for traversing backward in time. His mission is simple: he will be placed three years into the past. He will then drive seventy miles west of Oakridge, Tennessee, to Secretary Matheus’ vacation home in Gatlinburg. As it will be winter of 1940, Secretary Matheus will be staying at his summer home in Florida. Captain Krane will enter Secretary Matheus’ house through the spare key located in the potted plant in his backyard. When inside, he will go to the boiler, where he will leave notes concerning his observations. As Secretary Matheus has not been in the boiler room in the last three years, it should remain untouched, and be accessible to us in the present day. Secretary Matheus himself, alongside me, will retrieve the letters left behind by Captain Krane in the present day. I will update when new information is present.
November 9th, 1943.
Operation Cronus is a complete success. Upon entering the boiler room, Secretary Matheus and myself discovered two letters left behind by Captain Krane. They are as follows: “Greetings! I, Captain Brett Krane, have successfully traversed the dimensions of time! As predicted, I returned to the eighth of November, 1940! So far, my body has experienced no changes. I know that as this is our first test, I am not to engage anyone I know, or especially myself. I have mostly stayed hidden within Secretary Matheus’ home. I’m awaiting my return trip two days from now. With warm regards, Captain Krane.” The second is as follows: “This is day two of my observations in concordance with Operation Cronus. The date is November 9th, 1940. How exciting it is to write that again! I’ve yet to experience any repercussion from traveling through time. I’m trying to stay inside as much as possible, for fear of possibly creating a ripple effect through an action I could never have predicted would do so. There are 43 hours remaining until the Brooks Linear Temporal Relocator is set to return me to the present day. Until then, I’m enjoying 1940!” Now, Captain Krane is 41 hours from returning, if the machine is able to return him to the present day as it is created to do. Though, as the machine has cooperated thus far, we are optimistic about the results.
November 10th, 1943.
The committee attached to Operation Cronus is at a loss. We do not know how to move forward with the experiment. The letter retrieved from Captain Krane today is beyond our understanding. It is as follows: “Dear coworkers, I have encountered something I cannot describe. It was a being beyond our human understanding. It appeared before me without warning. I cannot describe it to you, but if I were to attempt to, I would liken it to that of the biblical depiction of the seraphim. Still, that cannot come close to expressing its appearance. Its body was in multiple planes at one time, and it was, what I can only think to describe, as four-dimensional. It imparted to me that I had trespassed, and I will face the consequence for my transgressions. I fear for my life. I’m asking with grave sincerity, return me to the present! If it is possible to adjust the mission clock on the machine. Still, I can’t help but feel that even if I were to return, it would find me. I do not think this being is affected by the passage of time.” With this disturbing letter, we’ve devoted all our resources to shortening the time Captain Krane remains in the past, but we fear rewriting the timer will detach the machine’s memory from Captain Krane completely, and he will be stranded in the past. It is a sensitive operation, and we are gridlocked. We are powerless to change the outcome.
November 11th, 1943.
It is with grave remorse that I summate this log. Captain Krane is no longer with us. We recovered a final letter from him. We do not know how to interpret it. It is as follows: “I will not be returning to the present. We were wrong. Time is not linear. It is a growing body. And they are the antibodies. We have attempted to usurp God and his creation of time. And like Lucifer, now I, too, shall fall and face judgement.”
November 17th, 1943.
There has been no contact with Captain Krane since his last letter. He has not returned to the present. When the Brooks Linear Temporal Relocator completed its mission clock, it attempted to recall him, but it was unable to summon a trace of Captain Krane. Still, it was not all for nothing. We have learned two things of time: one, that is governed by something. A being, or perhaps a host of beings. And two, that time continues, even in the event of a paradox. As it is true that Captain Krane died in 1940, it cannot, then, be true that he was alive to engage in this mission in 1943. Yet, six days after his death should have rewritten our timeline, our memory of him, and all his exploits beyond November 11th, 1940, remain. This means that the paradox of his death has somehow not altered our timeline at all. Operation Cronus was suspended for six days. As of today, it was announced that it will no longer continue. Still, I am skeptical. If the mission clock were to be reduced, perhaps Captain Krane could have returned unharmed. It is imperative that more testing take place. There is so much more to learn. Can a ripple effect be produced as simply as imagined? And what would happen if a man were to meet his past self? And, what of the grandfather paradox? We can now answer those questions! Science does not shy away at the fear of death- it continues regardless! My sincerest hopes are that in the future, it shall be revisited.
“And… that’s it,” Oz whispered.
“So… it works…” Neil stared at it in disbelief. “The Brooks Linear Temporal Relocator… It’s really a time machine.”
“Neil…!” Lily began to panic. “We need to destroy it!”
“What?!” Neil asked. “We can’t! The police have to find it!”
“No, you don’t get it!” she cried. “This all happened before! And-”
To their horror, the latch to the tornado shelter began to rattle, and her father’s drunken voice bellowed “Lily!”
Neil jerked backward, slamming into the machine, his arm shoving the lever down inadvertently. To their complete and utter trepidation, it began to whir to life, and the antenna began to surge a bright white color.
“Not this time!” Lily announced.
She sprinted over to the wall, grabbing a large wrench. With all her might, she screamed and slammed it into the antenna. It broke off, and a surge of electricity coated the machine. She shrieked a blood-curdling cry, slamming the wrench into it again and again. At last, her father stumbled into the attic, Neil screaming and running away from the entrance.
“Lily!” he vociferated. “The Relocator!”
“Enough!” she cried. “This can’t happen again!”
“You… You…!” tears streamed down his face. “You’ve taken my Rory from me, again! I’ve lost her all over again…! Because… of you…!” he walked toward her in unbridled fury. “First, you appeared to me that day! You were the reason for the argument that killed her! And now, you’ve destroyed my only chance at getting her back!”
“No, Dad…!” she cried. “You can’t put Mom’s death on me! That’s not fair!”
“And you brought these strangers here!” he shrieked vehemently. “You’ve… betrayed me for the last time, Lily… And you’ve doomed these boys. Because now they’ve seen it too.”
Neil was in the left of the room, Terry, Oz, and Lily cowering in the corner. He stormed up to Lily, grabbing at the large wrench, but Terry and Oz slammed into him and tried to push him back. Neil sprinted around the Linear Temporal Relocator, reaching Lily’s father from the back and slamming his foot into the back of his knee. He dropped to the ground in a forced crouch, and without restrain, Lily whacked him across the head with the wrench. He collapsed. Blood trickled out of his head into a small puddle on the floor.
She stared at his body, her arms dropping to her side. The wrench slid out of her fingers, clanging on the ground. The four were frozen in silence.
“Hey, Neil!” Mrs. Callahan beamed as he stepped into the house.
“Hi, Mrs. Callahan!” he smiled.
“Lily’s almost ready,” she smiled. “In the meanwhile, how’s Rachel?”
“Good,” Neil nodded. “She just got promoted, so she’ll get to work a little less. We’re seeing a movie this weekend. I don’t know how long it’s been since she had a weekend off.”
“Your mother works so hard for you…” Mrs. Callahan divulged. “We’ve lived in the same town since we were girls, and yet I see her once a year if I’m lucky. I’m so happy to hear she got a break. You should really tell her I’d love to catch up sometime.”
“I will,” he assured.
“Hi, Neil,” Lily stepped out of the hallway.
It gave him butterflies every time he saw her with makeup.
“My god, Lily… You look so much like Rory,” she grinned. “Come to think of it, Neil, you sure are starting to look like Hank. It’s almost like I’m looking through a portal in time.”
Neil shot Lily a smirk.
“Well, you two have fun,” she smiled. “I’ll see you later tonight.”
“Bye, Mrs. Callahan!” Neil called as they walked out.
“Goodbye, Mom…” Lily smiled at her.
They walked outside into the warm summer breeze. Lily Callahan, the adopted daughter of Rose Callahan, walked with Neil down the street toward 19th avenue. It was a Thursday afternoon. The streets were alit with adolescents enjoying their summer freedom, and the smells of barbeque cookouts, pool chlorine, and sunblock filled the air.
Lily held Neil’s hand.
When they got to 19th Avenue, they walked north, their destination, Gordy’s, where they would rendezvous with Terry and Oz.
When the police arrived at the scene the night Lily struck her father, they were extremely puzzled with what they’d come across. Oz gave them the camera and the pictures he’d taken. Before long, the matter was left to the FBI. Lily’s father, on the other hand, was pronounced dead. With his death, the secrets of time travel, and the Brooks Linear Temporal Relocator, were taken with him.
Lily was quickly adopted by Mrs. Callahan. She saw a therapist every Monday, and confided to her all the events of her life, beginning with the day she witnessed her mother’s death, and the trauma in which years of hiding it had resulted.
When Neil finally saw Lily again, after she became a member of the Callahan household, she showed Neil the letter she’d found the night before her father’s death.
I’m writing you this letter to warn you! I am Lily Brooks. I’m fourteen years old, and I’m trapped in the year of 1971. Tomorrow, Neil is going to start the machine by accident, and when he does, you’re going to push him out of the way. You’ll be sent back to 1971, the day our mother died. You’ll go to the nearest store to ask the date, and when inside, you’ll see our dad. He’ll be speechless, and he’ll ask you if you’re his daughter, and how old you are. When you tell him that you’re Lily, and that you’re fourteen, he’ll insist you come home with him, but in fear that you’ll be seen by your past self, and something horrible might happen, you’ll run away. And… that’s how mom dies. Our fault… He’ll come home and tell her he saw you, and that’s how the argument begins. I came here after the accident, because I know you’re at the hospital with Dad. I know you’ll come to this album the night before you go to the machine. This is your chance to do things differently. You have to destroy the time machine. And if we never go back in time, maybe Mom never dies… But all that is certain is that you can’t let this happen again. Destroy it this time.
“So, that Lily… Is she out there somewhere?” Neil pondered that night.
“No… She was probably eradicated, by whatever being eradicated Captain Krane… And as Operation Cronus concluded, paradoxes don’t affect the progression of time. So, even though in this timeline, I never went back into time for my father to see me, it still remains that he did, and my mother’s still…”
“It’s okay…” he comforted. “It’s… the past. Can’t… change the past.”
“Yes… It seems you can’t,” she nodded.
Neil and Lily walked up the avenue, holding hands and talking about whatever came to mind. When they got to Gordy’s, they went inside, buying Coca-Colas. When they stepped outside, Amy and her posse were just arriving.
Amy saw Neil with Lily. She scoffed.
“Lily, huh? In public? Have fun with an alien, Neil. Hope whatever her species has downstairs is satisfying.”
Neil chuckled uncaringly, not even bothering to reply. They joined Oz and Terry in the forest behind the gas station, Terry smoking a cigarette, Oz eating trail mix.
“The lovebirds are here!” Terry grinned. “Took you long enough. Too busy sucking face?”
“You’re getting good at smoking those without coughing your lungs out,” Neil remarked with a smile.
“Aw, shut up, spaz,” he dismissed, waving his cigarette at him.
Neil sat down on the log, Lily beside him. He threw his arm over her. The warm sun beat down on their backs, Terry beginning a monologue about how his parents wouldn’t stop “dipping in his Kool-Aid.” Oz listened casually, smiling from time to time when he glanced at Neil and Lily sitting together.
When Terry finally stopped complaining, he plopped down on the log next to Oz.
“So, lovebirds,” he inquired, “looking forward to high school?”
“Yeah,” Neil nodded. “But… I’m really enjoying this, right now. This moment. In the summer of ’78. Because, it can never be lived again,” he held Lily even closer, who nestled her head into his shoulder.