He’d been surprised by the snow when he woke up this morning. It wasn’t in last night’s weather prediction, but as Marty McFly says every time someone watches “Back to the Future,” “Since when can weathermen predict the weather, let alone the future?” Then he chuckled to himself as he remembered why. Last night he’d fallen asleep on Friday, July 24, 1970. This morning when he woke up, it was Thursday, January 9, 1986.
Phil Morton was just a few days shy of his sixty-fourth birthday when he became unstuck in time and place. Fortunately, he was in good health both physically and mentally, so he was able to endure the shock and stress involved.
The first time it happened, he woke up at home less than a year in the past and for a whole day, he thought there was something wrong with his memory. How could he remember the first seven months of 2018 when it was only July 22, 2017? He had awakened in his own bed. His wife was with him. The grand kids were visiting. Everything was normal except he recalled living almost another full year that for everyone else, hadn’t happened yet.
The next morning things got really interesting. He woke up in a vacant field covered with morning dew and he was freezing. By some strange quirk of this effect, he was fully clothed which was good since the night before he had only been wearing a t-shirt and briefs when he went to bed.
It was a three-mile walk into town and the morning newspaper proudly displayed in the automatic dispenser announced the date as Wednesday, April 2, 1958. He was starving and reaching into his back pocket, he found a wallet. It wasn’t his wallet. Like the clothes, it and its contents were consistent with the date and place. Fortunately so was the cash inside so he could buy breakfast at the corner coffee shop.
But on April 2, 1958, he hadn’t turned four years old yet, so no one in his hometown knew the now aging Phil Morton and certainly no one would believe him if he shared his outlandish story. He learned to spend his days in public libraries, coffee shops, or shopping malls, all places a person could go without being noticed. Nights were tough at first, but then he realized he could stay in motels. Fortunately the money in his wallet was magically replenished every morning when he woke up.
He never traveled back any more than the day of his birth and never went forward any further than his birthday in 2018. However the fifth morning he woke up, he was no longer in Boise or even (probably) in America. He was in the middle of a desert, no food, no water, no buildings, and no people. Plenty of sand and heat. Definitely summer but he never saw anyone all that day. Phil thought he was going to die. It was night when he either fell asleep or passed out.
Phil never knew when or where he was that day but when he woke up again, the date was Tuesday, October 27, 1970 and he was on the outskirts of Auckland, New Zealand. Again, his clothes and the money in his wallet matched his surroundings and he quickly found a place to have breakfast.
He’d lost count of the number of jumps. Years could have passed subjectively. Phil wasn’t even sure how old he was anymore. It didn’t matter. He was homeless and lost. A twist of fate allowed him to survive, to be able to buy food and shelter if he were near a town or city, and his clothing was automatically provided for him. However, he had no companionship or any explanation as to why this was happening to him. Would he ever see home again?
It was still early in the morning as he trudged through the snowy streets of Antwerp (he only knew that because he’d recovered what he assumed was yesterday’s newspaper from a trash can) and he had yet to find his way out of this residential neighborhood and get to some place to eat and rest.
One of the problems that the timespace jumps didn’t solve was language. He only spoke English and if he couldn’t find another English-speaker, he had to communicate as best he could, which didn’t always work out so well. Fortunately, in Europe, a lot of people knew English as a second language so he’d be okay today. He was also thankful that where and whenever he woke up, it was always on land. Two-thirds of the Earth’s surface was covered with water, so if these jumps were truly random, he would have drowned in some ocean long ago.
It was a lonely and sometimes dangerous existence. One morning he woke up on a sidewalk in Tehran on Thursday, February 8, 1979 during the Iranian Revolution and he was promptly arrested, beaten, and then imprisoned by the police. Something very similar happened when he woke up in Leningrad on Sunday, August 14, 1960. There were some times and places where he had been killed, shot, stabbed, beaten to death, it was a hazardous world, but he always woke up in the morning some in some other place and date.
Most of the time though, the worst thing he had to put up with was loneliness and boredom. Of course, he could always go sightseeing. There was New York City on Friday, September 3, 1965 and Paris on Tuesday, May 27, 1974. Of course Iowa Falls, Iowa on Monday, July 11, 1955 was really dull, but at least the food at the local diner was good.
Finally, the edge of a business district and morning commuters going into an open cafe. Phil walked in and sat at a small table. A waiter came and gave him a place setting and menu. “Excuse me, do you speak English?”
“Yes sir. How may I help you?”
“What would you recommend for breakfast? I’m pretty helpless with this menu.” Phil had gotten used to asking for help. If he could stay in one place more than a day, he might have started picking up some languages.
“Of course, Sir. The salmon and soft-boiled egg dish is very good.”
“Thanks. I’ll have that and plenty of coffee.”
“Yes, of course, Sir.” The young man with a pencil thin mustache quickly jotted down Phil’s order and bustled off.
“Excuse me, Sir. Mind if I join you? All the other seats seem to be taken.”
Phil was halfway through his meal and working on his second cup of coffee when he looked up to see the older gentleman addressing him and speaking perfect English.
“Sure. Have a seat.”
The waiter arrived quickly with a menu but Phil’s new companion said in what he assumed was Dutch, “Just black coffee for me. Thanks.”
The coffee arrived while Phil was still eating. After the stranger took a sip, he said, “My name is Everett Manning, and you are?”
Phil extended his right hand which Manning shook. “Phil Morton. Pleased to meet you. Are you an American? Your English is very good.”
“Thank you, Mr. Morton. I’m whoever and whatever the situation demands of me.”
Phil finished his cup of coffee. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what that means, Mr. Manning.”
“Please, call me Everett.”
“Very good, Phil. What I mean is that we have something in common. I didn’t join you simply because the cafe is so busy. You see, yesterday I woke up in Bangkok, Thailand on Friday, April 25, 1980.”
Phil’s hands began shaking as he stared at the gentleman seated in front of him. “You’re like me. You’re unstuck in time and space.”
“In a sense.” Everett took another sip. “Excellent coffee. You wouldn’t believe the number of times and places where you can’t get any.”
“I think I do, Everett. How long has it been happening to you?”
“I think it was about five years before I learned to control it.”
“Control?” Phil had to put down his fork for fear of dropping it. Then he grabbed the edge of the table.
“Yes. That’s why I’m here. I became shall we say ‘aware’ of you and your plight and felt I should intervene. How many times have you died?”
“More than I can count. Fortunately, it’s not permanent.”
“Yes, I agree, but that was the secret for me. Do you remember anything between dying and waking up?”
“No, not really. Why?”
“That’s when I first started to see and hear them, Phil. The ghosts or spirits or whatever they were.”
“Really?” Phil looked up as the waiter refilled his and Everett’s coffees. In Europe refills aren’t free but he had enough money to cover it. After the waiter departed again, “I thought I was dreaming.”
“I did too at first, but after about the tenth or eleventh time, I noticed a pattern.”
“Everett, all I see in my dreams are white shapes in a black room with some sort of bright light at the end.”
“The light is the way home, the time and place when you first became unstuck.”
“I can go home?” Phil had raised his voice enough to make everyone in the cafe turn and look at him. He lowered it again and leaned forward. “I can go home?”
“Yes, and once there, you gain control. You can choose any time and place to wake up in, anyplace on Earth and any date between your birth date and your relative present. Just walk through the bright light. The spirits won’t stop you. All of this is an accident anyway and they produce the doorway for us as a way to make amends.”
“I’m not really sure. Their ability to communicate is limited. I think they meant all of this as a gift for those few of us who are receptive but somehow it didn’t work as they expected, whatever they are.”
“I can go home.”
“Yes Phil, you can. And then you can, with the limitations I explained, go to anyplace and any time and Phil, you can stay for as long as you want, from a second to probably years, though I’ve only vacationed in any one location for a few months, at least so far.”
“Oh, I’ll get this.” Everett summoned the waiter with a wave and paid the bill. “If you’re finished with breakfast, please come with me.”
“After all this coffee and excitement, I’ve got to hit the John.”
“By all means. I’ll be waiting by the door.”
A few minutes later, Phil practically skipped over to Everett. “Are we going home?” The two men walked back outside and down the street. “You are, yes. After you have, I’ll probably choose another time and place.”
“Great. What do I have to do?”
“Just come with me. I think this alleyway will do nicely.”
Phil followed the other man halfway down an alley, the traffic noise behind them muffled by distance and snow. Everett stopped and turned to face Phil, both hands in his coat pockets.
“Now what do I do, Everett?”
“I’m afraid this only works one way.” Everett pulled a pistol out of his right pocket and aimed it at Phil’s chest.
“Hey! Wait! Don’t do th…”
Everett pulled the trigger three times and after Phil collapsed on the ground, he took his pulse. Satisfied that Phil was dead, he vanished, and by the time the police arrived, they found the alley was empty.
Phil dreamed of a dark room with ghostly floating shapes ushering him toward a bright light.
Then he woke up.
I wrote this for the Tale Weaver – #160 – Homelessness writing challenge hosted at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie. The idea today is to use the image above and the concept of “Homelessness” to author a poem, short story, or other creative work.
I didn’t want to write about homelessness as such so I created Phil Morton and his rather difficult situation. I sort of borrowed the idea of being “unstuck in time” from Kurt Vonnegut, Jr’s 1969 novel Slaughterhouse Five in which the main character Billy Pilgrim randomly experiences different parts of his history from being a prisoner of war during World War Two to the far future when he is shot to death. I also “borrowed” the limitation of time traveling only within your lifetime from the television series Quantum Leap which starred Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell. The rest of it is out of my imagination.
I had to use a random date generator as well as a random location generator and look up various calendars to create all of the dates and places for Phil and Everett to visit, throwing away the locations that would have put either of them in the middle of an ocean. Since the image above looked vaguely European, I fudged a bit and selected Antwerp off of Google maps.
What would it be like to be homeless in time and space?