This story is by Chris Murphy and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Whatever you do, don’t damage it, lose it, or let it run out of power or you’ll be trapped wherever you are until you die.
David’s sister had repeated “Gogan’s Temporal Laws” so many times they had been permanently burned into his brain. But he understood why Samantha had been so adamant and repetitive. Time travel was a complicated and dangerous business and as his sister was fond of reminding him, “If you ignore these laws, you can look forward to being fully educated while you starve to death.”
David Gogan refocused his attention onto the armed young man kneeling in front of an open window. Despite his best efforts, David had a difficult time keeping the grin off his face. Not that it mattered. The most impressive part of Samantha’s breakthrough in temporal dynamics was the “Ghost Factor”. Somehow, his genius sister had not only figured out a way to travel through time, but to do it inter-dimensionally. As far as the historical subjects under his surveillance were concerned, he was literally the Invisible Man.
As Samantha had explained it, the Ghost Factor was a double-edged sword. It prevented the jumper from affecting the timeline. But it also posed a very real existential threat to the jumper who got stuck in the past or the future without her device. Not for the first time, David shuddered at the thought of getting trapped in the time stream completely severed from all human contact for the rest of his life.
Despite this risk, David had eagerly volunteered to test the time travel device when Samantha had announced her breakthrough. Once he had completed the initial test run and proven the success of her “Jump Watch”, he couldn’t wait to start an entirely new field of criminal science. All the years he’d spent studying criminology and working in Chicago as an overworked and under-paid homicide detective had fully prepared him for his new lucrative business venture: Temporal Investigations Inc.
The big historical mysteries were easy. He had already identified Jack the Ripper, found Amelia Earhart, and solved the mystery of the Mary Celeste. Today’s historical mystery was the one he’d been looking forward to the most.
David glanced at the Jump Watch on his left wrist and made note of the time. His prep research for this jump had been extensive including the detailed timetable. Twelve twenty five. Almost time. His eyes traveled back to the young man.
He had seen every picture ever published of Lee Oswald, but seeing him live and in person, David was shocked at how young he actually was. He watched Oswald sight his rifle for what seemed like the thousandth time and marveled at his sister’s genius. Not in a million years had he imagined himself standing in the infamous Texas School Book Depository on the day Kennedy was assassinated watching the entire event unfold in real time.
He glanced at the watch again. Two minutes. David knelt behind Oswald to get a better view of one of history’s most tragically seminal events. The sniper’s perch was impressive. The assassin had picked the most ideal spot in all of Dallas to perform his horrible deed.
The lead car turned onto Houston street, signaling the arrival of the presidential motorcade, and started its slow crawl towards destiny. David’s smile grew as the crowds came to life to shout, cheer, and wave their homemade signs of welcome to the President of the United States.
When the presidential limousine made its turn onto Houston Street, his smile evaporated. The weight of the next few moments overruled his excitement and he watched, helplessly, as the limo made its slow turn onto Elm street and rolled into Oswald’s sights. David glanced at the watch again and noted the time just as Oswald squeezed off the first of the three rounds from his mail ordered Mannlicher-Carcano rifle.
All hell broke loose after the third shot. David winced as part of the President’s head disappeared in a spray of brains and body fluids before the rest of it disappeared behind the convertible’s back seat. He furiously scribbled his notes while the First Lady crawled onto the limo’s trunk to gather fragments of her husband’s skull and brain matter. When the motorcade roared to life, even his legendary note-taking discipline was no match for John F. Kennedy’s final moments in history.
David resumed his handwritten assessments after Oswald had raced for the door and his own historical fate. “Looks like the Warren Commission got it right after all.” His smile returned as he put the finishing touches on his notes.
He was so immersed in his investigative process that he nearly missed the beeping noise. Flashing red numbers on the watch’s screen caught his eye announcing the time remaining before the device’s power supply was depleted. 90 seconds. David quickly gathered his notes and ran for the exit.
He reached the stairwell’s first floor exit door and hit the watch’s “RETURN” button. The familiar rush of temporal movement announced his return to his original dimension and departure time. The stairwell looked nearly identical to the 1963 version with the exception of a thick layer of dust covering every inch of the small concrete room. A quick glance at the watch revealed he had less than a minute of power left. “That was close.” He checked the date and smiled. “Never thought I’d be happy to see 2020 again.”
David calmly exited the stairwell and made his way toward the building’s double front doors. The foyer was nearly empty and his exit went completely unnoticed by the few people who were there.
His cell came to life with the opening guitar riff from Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir, his sister’s favorite song from her favorite band. He retrieved his phone from his coat pocket and hit the “answer” button. “Perfect timing, Sam. I just got back from…”
His sister’s frantic voice stopped him cold. “David! Do you still have the watch?”
David frowned, “Of course I do. Why?”
Her tone immediately chilled his blood. “Is anyone following you?”
He gave the surrounding area a quick glance, “What? No, why? What’s wrong?”
“Somebody’s after the device, David. I was at the lab when they -” She paused a beat before continuing. “Where are you?”
“Dallas. I can be back home in -”
“NO!” She caught herself and lowered her voice down to a near-whisper. “Under no circumstances are you to bring the watch back here.” Fear coated every word. “These people are extremely dangerous. Said they were part of some kind of temporal task force. A… a crime unit or something!”
“A what?” He paused a beat before continuing. “Are you alright, Sam? Are you safe?”
“I don’t know. I’m packing some things and getting out of here as fast as I can. I’ll reach out to you when I’m able.”
“Sam, wait!” He glanced at the watch. “I’m almost out of juice. Got enough for one jump and that’s it. I’ve got to get another supply of power cores or this thing is worthless.”
“The cores are stashed. Whatever happens, do not use the jump watch or you’ll be trapped in another dimension in another time forever. Be careful, David. Remember the rules.” Without waiting for a response, she ended the call.
David stood in front of the Texas School Book Depository and stared into the middle distance, his mind racing with questions and options. He was settling on his next course of action when he noticed a man wearing a strange uniform staring at him from across the street. A quick glance to his right revealed a second uniformed man moving towards him in an unmistakably aggressive posture.
Before he could move, the second man pointed a strange weapon at him. “Hand over the device, Mr. Grogan!”
A third man came up from behind and grabbed his left arm. “Eyes on the target” – David immediately realized this new attacker was not talking to him – “kill order authorized!” The man clawed at the Jump Watch as he spoke.
David’s reaction was instant. He shifted his weight and caught the new assailant’s Adam’s apple with a quick jab while wrenching his left arm out of the man’s grip. David dropped to his knees just as a strange noise sounded to David’s right. The third attacker immediately collapsed in a lifeless heap on his left, the man’s face replaced with a sizzling, smoking hole.
From his kneeling position, David saw both assailants running in his direction, weapons drawn. Without hesitation, he stabbed his index finger into the watch’s “JUMP” button just as both men fired their weapons indicated by bright beams of deadly energy flashing in his direction. The familiar rush slowed his assailants and their weapons’ projectiles to a stop before they dissolved into a crowd of horrified onlookers gathered around Dealey Plaza.
David glanced at the watch in time to see the date “November 22, 1963” blink once just before the screen went dark.