The Beginning

My name is Max and I was born in England, in 1980. Having joined Siemens straight from school, I spent the next fourteen years working in one of their electronics research departments.

My life was uneventful until 2012, when I chose to holiday alone, in the Highlands of Scotland.

I was sitting on a hillside in the Trossachs, watching the sun go down. Beneath me, Loch McCarrup grew black as the last glow of evening settled over the mountains opposite, when suddenly the sky above me was lit by a blinding flash.

A few seconds later, there was a whump – and I saw what appeared to be a small explosion crater the ground, a few hundred yards from where I sat. A second later, a sound like a whip-crack split the silence.

It took me another few seconds to take in what had just happened. I had witnessed the arrival to this planet – of a meteorite.

Excited, I slowly approached the small crater. It was empty. But recalling a documentary I had seen on such visitations, I began to dig into the earth at the bottom.

My unprotected hands were beginning to hurt and I was thinking about giving up, when I felt something sharp and solid. A few moments later and I was cradling a small piece of matter from outside of this world.

Wiping the dirt from it, I discovered it was unlike any meteorite I had seen on TV. Its corners were regular.

But it was definitely solid, so I would learn little more that night. Thus I put the object in my pocket and returned to the small camper-van I was touring in.

That night, I had a vivid dream – or so I thought.

In it, I found myself in the bedroom of a stately home. A man was getting ready for bed. He spun around, alarmed, as I asked him where I was. “You are in my bedroom,” he replied, angrily. “How the hell did you get in here?”

“I’m not sure,” I said. “Who are you?”

“I am His Royal Highness, King Edward the Eighth – of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas. Who the hell are you?

“I-I’m sorry. Er… I’m Max.”

“Well Max, I don’t know how you arrived, but you’re leaving by armed guard…” He took a breath to summon help, so I panicked and leapt on him. He was not best pleased.

“Look sir, I promise you I’m not a terrorist… and I mean you no harm. I’m as confused as you are, by my appearance here. One minute I’m asleep in Scotland – the next I’m here in… excuse me for asking, but what’s the date?”

His face suffused with colour. “Are you mad? Did you break into my chambers just to find out the date?

“No sir… look, please bear with me.”

“It’s – it’s March the sixth, I think.”

“What year?”

“Nineteen thirty-six. And if you want to see nineteen thirty-seven – bloody get off me,” he shouted.

I quickly stood up. “Begging your pardon sir, but where I’ve just come from… it’s twenty twelve.”

“You are mad. Alright – who is King of England in… twenty twelve?”

“Er – well, actually, she’s Queen Elizabeth the Second.”

“Bertie’s child? Don’t be ridiculous.”

“It’s true, sir. Erm… King George takes over from you when you abdicate.”

Abdicate?” he roared. “Why in hell would I do that?”

“Wallis Simpson.”

All of a sudden, he quietened. “No-one knows about that.”

“I’m afraid in twenty twelve, it’s a matter of public record. I saw a documentary on it just a few weeks ago, on the History Channel.”

“The what?

“Er… it’s a television channel.”

“What, like that BBC thing?”

“Yes. Except that by twenty twelve, there are hundreds of television services – all in colour, on big screens. And in stereo.”

“What’s ster… never mind. If what you say is true – show me some money.”

Now it was my turn to be puzzled. “Money, sir?” Then I realised he was smarter than I had thought.

I opened my wallet and gave him several notes and coins. The coins were dated and both notes and coins bore the face of – Queen Elizabeth the Second.

He visibly deflated.

After several seconds, he waved me to a chair. As I settled back in the sumptuous leather, I reflected that it was good to be the King.

He walked over to a drinks cabinet and poured two large cognacs, from a decanter with a silver label on a chain.

I understood that until he had seen my 2012 money, he had just been humouring a man he thought was a nutcase – but the currency was a game-changer. To have designed, manufactured and even distressed it, in 1936, would have been next to impossible.

He gave me one of the glasses and sat down on the bed, facing me. “I have a lot of questions for you,” he said, slowly.

We talked of many things – chiefly the then-current situation in Europe.

I told him that the TV documentary I had seen had theorised his abdication had less to do with his relationship with Ms Simpson than his connections to Germany. And that it had been forced upon him by his government.

He snorted at that – but I could see there was some truth in the matter.

Then he said something that made the hair on the back of my head stand up. “Hitler’s not such a bad chap, once you get to know him.”

At which point, I told him about the Holocaust.

After that, the man grew silent. And shortly afterwards, the cognac swept me away…

The Next Day

I awoke in my camper-van. I lay there for a while, listening to the morning chatter of the birds. Then I realised I could still taste that cognac. Wow, I thought – that was a realistic dream.

Eventually I rose, washed myself in the icy water of the loch and dressed. Then I fired up the vintage VW camper and drove to the nearby village, Glenmiller, to get a paper and some breakfast.

I parked opposite the village shop, aware that people were looking at my vehicle with undisguised disgust. This struck me as odd, given it was old, but quite clean.

Dismissing this, I walked over to the shop – but it was a newsagent.

I whirled around, but this was the only shop in the village and it was definitely different from yesterday.

Then I noticed a newspaper vending machine outside. It said “10p” – so I deposited a ten pence coin in the slot. It went straight through. I tried another, with the same result.

As I bent down to retrieve the coin, my eyes settled on the headline of the paper. It read, “King Announces Tour Of Germany” – and reading the article beneath, I realised this was the King of England (and Ireland and the lands beyond the sea, whatever).

Oh, crap. I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

Reading further down, I became aware that the King’s trip was controversial. The first visit by the monarch, since WW2. And it became clear there were still strong anti-German sentiments among the British people. I began to understand why my VW camper had drawn such a reaction.

Since my money was literally no good here, I wondered what to do next. Then I saw a newspaper in a nearby litter bin. I strode across, whipped it out, walked quickly back to my camper, gunned the engine and drove away.

I parked up in a lonely spot by the loch and began to read. The king in question was called William the Fifth. But he was not Charles’ son – this guy was seventy if he was a day. He had to be Edward’s child.

I ran through the rest of the paper. Some things were much as they had been 24 hours ago – but some were very different.

All the cars pictured appeared to be English. And the TV page had forty-odd channels listed. More than half were BBC (albethey with a strange logo) but the rest were mostly unfamiliar – although the History Channel was still there.

I switched my mobile phone on – but there was no signal.

I tried the radio – just static. So I pressed “search” and after a few seconds, it locked onto a signal. At that moment, the news came on. As I listened to the world’s latest events, I realised I had woken in a very different world from the one I had gone to sleep in.

The country was ruled by the SDP, with Dame Shirley Williams as its venerable leader.

I realised my immediate problem was money. If I tried to pass any of my coinage, I would end up in jail. So I drove to the nearest town, parked the camper on its outskirts and set off on foot.

As I walked, I tried my phone again. Still no signal. I scoured the rooftops for an antenna. There was one. But the houses had square TV dishes, with that odd BBC logo on them. I reasoned that my technology here was about as good as my money.

Without much hope of success, I put my debit card into the nearest ATM. Unsurprisingly, it rejected it.

I only had a few litres of fuel left in the camper, so I drove very gently in the direction of the motorway home – and found the motorway was not there.

Eventually the old bus spluttered to a halt so I began walking, sticking my thumb out every time a vehicle passed. The response was unfriendly. Eventually, a guy stopped – and demanded to know what I meant. I explained I wanted a lift. He said, “Well, you won’t get one using that gesture.”

I apologised and said my hand had cramp. He relented and said he could get me to the tollway. I thanked him.

On the way, I elicited as much information from him as I could, without arousing suspicion. It turned out a flat palm held steady was the accepted signal for needing a lift. A thumb up – meant something quite different.

He stopped his vehicle (which resembled a Toyota Corolla, but with a Leyland insignia – again, with an unfamiliar logo) by a roundabout and pointed to the slip-road I needed…

The long trip south told me some more about the 2012 I had fallen into. McDonalds (with the usual logo) were everywhere, along with a number of other familiar American and British corporate names.

And I learned a number of other things. But I could not ask the questions I really wanted to, without appearing strange. What I needed was a computer.

Eventually, I reached London and went straight to my parents’ house. What if it wasn’t there?

I need not have worried. Mum and Dad opened the door and greeted me like the Prodigal Son (I had only seen them a week ago).

Me and Dad chatted, while Mum went off to cook me some (by now, much needed) dinner.

I learned a great deal more from them. It turned out I had married a woman (in my old world, I was still happily single) who turned out to be a right bitch.

Having not helped me build up a small but successful company making auto computers, she had then divorced me, forcing me to sell the company and give her half the money. At least we had not had kids.

But I had confounded her by starting a new company with the remaining capital – and had built up an even more successful one. Apparently, I was now quite rich.

Furthermore, I had paid off Mum and Dad’s mortgage and built an extension on the back of their house, to use as my “bachelor pad”. But then, the new company being largely self-perpetuating, I had gone off around the world to “find myself” – I wondered if I had succeeded.

It occurred to me that if the other me came back, things might get awkward. But I was tired and so decided to chance that. They wished me a good night.

I entered my flat and was impressed by what I saw. On the wall was a huge TV. Its diagonal measured two metres across – but there was something odd about it. It took me a moment to realize, then I measured its ratio. It was 14:9.

I turned it on and channel-hopped for a while. The picture quality was excellent – the label said, “EMI 200cm 1125HD” – but the programmes were no better than they had been before. They even had Eamonn Holmes. Yuch.

Then I found my computer. It was now an IBM and started up considerably faster than my old one. Everything was much the same on the keyboard, but I had an anxious moment when it asked me for my password. It had been a character from Victorian literature, plus a rude number – and luckily this version of me had thought similarly.

In this 2012, Google was nowhere to be seen (hooray!) Here, the Internet was dominated by AOL.

Also there was no Wikipedia, but the BBC had a huge historical site – so I spent the next few hours re-learning the events that had shaped the Twentieth Century.

Edward must have dumped Wallis – there was no mention of her. He had married a Swedish minor royal and reigned until his death in 1972, at which time his eldest son William had taken over.

But the biggest shock was World War Two. Oh, it had still happened, but the story was very different from the one I knew.

Hitler had overrun Poland in 1937. Britain, with no effective aerial forces, had stayed out of it. Then slowly, he had moved on all of the other countries of central Europe.

Edward had urged America to help him engage Hitler, but she had her hands full with Japan.

Meanwhile, Hitler had honoured the Non-Aggression Pact with Russia – and his rise had gone unchecked until 1945, when word had finally leaked out of his totalitarian state that he had virtually wiped out every Jew in Europe – along with millions of others from various political, religious and ethnic groups.

At which point, Britain had dropped a huge nuclear bomb on Berlin. Hitler and half his cabinet had died and those remaining had surrendered immediately. 

However little had been known about fallout, with the result that in addition to millions of Germans being killed instantly – millions more had died from the effects of the radiation, over the ensuing years. And since the wind had been coming from the west that day, most of them had been in Eastern Europe.

Berlin had been utterly destroyed. Today, the entire area was bulldozed flat and known as Ground Zero (in this world, there had not been a “9/11”).

And having seen what had happened, when America threatened to do likewise to Tokyo, the Japanese surrendered too.

This left Britain and America reigning supreme over the whole planet, while Japan, China and Russia were second-rate powers – with Europe barely surviving as a collection of miscellaneous states.

And I knew why.

I had told Edward about the nuclear bomb. Nothing technical, of course (I am an electronics man – not a nuclear physicist) but I had mentioned the Manhattan Project. He must have had British spies in the American camp.

Furthermore, I had discussed how Hitler’s blunder regarding invading Russia had cost him the war. That story could have reached the Führer’s ears.

In fact, I learned that Edward had taken a much larger role in political affairs after our little chat. And as a result, Britain was far stronger in this world than it had been in the one I had left.

But at a terrible cost. The total dead from WW2 in Europe had been twice what it was in my world. This was my fault. I had to do something.

However right now, I needed sleep. But that posed a problem. What did I do about the device? By now, I had decided the object I had acquired from space had to be the cause of all this.

It still lay in my pocket. As best I could think, it appeared to have the ability to transport me and anything I was in contact with (my clothes, the contents of my pockets, etc.) to the past.

I suspected it happened in my sleep because my mind was in a different state then – perhaps more like the inhabitants of the place it had come from. I refused to even think the word “aliens” because it sounded silly. But I could come up with no other explanation…

Either way, while I seemed to have some control over this odd dream state, I was by no means acclimatised to it. Thus I did not want to go tripping off again, until I had had time to consider the ramifications.

I had done enough damage already.

So I went to the kitchen and got some chicken foil. Then, having wrapped the device in a copious amount, I placed it in my safe and whirled the tumblers (again, the same combination as the one in my old world).

Figuring I was now safe, I repaired to the bedroom and slept for fourteen hours.

The Day After

I awoke refreshed and decided to take a step back from all of this.

I went through to the main house and Mum made me breakfast. She switched the radio on – the sound of Ten Years After filled the room. “Oh, that brings back memories,” she said.

After breakfast, I returned to my flat and lay down to think.

I had appeared in King Edward’s bed-chamber in the clothes I had been lying in, when I had fallen asleep in the camper. And… that was it – I had been listening to a radio interview with Edward Fox, the actor and he had been talking about his role in “Edward & Mrs Simpson” just as I slipped away.

But what about my camper? I had been in it when I had woken in my new world – but luckily, not when I had turned up in Eddy’s bedroom.

Touch. That had to be it. I had been lying on my back on the bed when I fell asleep.

But when I awoke, I had rolled over and my hand was draped over the side and lying on the floor of the vehicle. Damn, I was going to have to watch that.

But this brought into focus another important question. Could I bring stuff back with me? And if I fell asleep wrapped around a person, would they come back with me?

I had to find out more. But until I did, I would have to be careful. What I needed was something safe. Then I remembered Mum and Ten Years After and it hit me: Woodstock – Three Days of Peace and Music – what could be safer than that?

Yes, but this was a different world. Did Woodstock even happen here? Time to hit the Internet again.

It turned out that while my tinkering with history had radically altered things in Britain and Europe – the knock-on effect had also reached the other side of the pond…

While Britain and America had The Bomb, Russia did not. Thus the Cold War had never happened – and so fifties America had been a relaxed time.

The driver who had been scheduled to ferry Richard Nixon to his debate with JFK had come down with a virus, so had been subbed at the last minute by “Fabulous” Freddie King.

Freddie was not a great driver, resulting in the limo getting stuck in traffic. But the young man was not backward in coming forward, so when he caught sight of a blue-chinned Nixon in his rear-view mirror, he opened his glove box and handed the presidential hopeful his battery shaver. “If yo’ is goin’ up against that fine Mr Kennedy, yo’ doan wanna look like a gangster – this is TV, man.”

Since the car was not moving, Nixon had nothing better to do. So he thanked Freddie and gave himself a shave. Then, resigned to his fate, settled down in the aircon luxury of the car.

Eventually, the traffic began to move and Nixon arrived at the studio, clean, cool and relaxed – with just three minutes to spare.

He became the next President of the United States.

Realising the Vietnam conflict was unwinnable, he kept America out of it and left office with the reputation of being one of the best presidents the USA had ever had.

Meanwhile, JFK and Bobby had become embroiled in a messy affair with Marilyn Monroe (still living, as a recluse in a dilapidated Bel Air mansion) and as a result, became marginalised on the political scene.

Thus the Russians had reached the Moon first and now had a permanent base there.

In the seventies, Ronald Reagan ruled the White House for two terms. He had gained a lot of sympathy when, in the middle of his first term, he had been shot at by Lee Harvey Oswald. Lee had missed Ronnie – but killed Nancy stone dead.

The eighties were dominated by the Bushes. First George senior, then Jeb. But George junior had been beaten by Bill Clinton, who was riding high until an indiscretion with a chubby intern called Mary-Sue Rindner resulted in his impeachment – some things never change.

When Clinton fell, his VP took over and followed on with two terms as president. His ten years in the White House resulted in most of Oklahoma being turned into a gigantic wind farm – and these days, over 90% of Americans drove electric cars. His name was Al Gore.

After Al came the current incumbent, Joe Biden. He was doing okay – but a lot of people were saying his bright, personable Vice President could become America’s first black president…

Musically, things were quite different too. Paul McCartney emerged as a successful writer of West End and Broadway musicals, while George Harrison & The Harrisongs became the top-selling artists of the sixties.

John (Lennon) and the Jaggers (Mick, with Keith Richards) were a useful blues band for a while. But when John met Yoko, Mick and Keith split off to form the Mannish Boys.

And Ringo played drums with Gary Glitter.

However, the lack of social struggle seemed to have slowed down the pace of the era. Rock ‘N’ Roll, led by Elvis, continued as a musical genre well into the sixties. And Hendrix (who also still lived) did not become a star until the mid seventies.

All of which meant that while Woodstock did happen – it had to wait until 1979.

I searched my library of Greenray disks and discovered I had a copy of the movie.

Then I looked through my wardrobe and found a pair of battered jeans. However, a teeshirt to go with them proved trickier. The logos were all modern. But eventually I discovered an old one, with the Yin-Yang symbol on it – that would predate everything.

Next, I needed some period money. The hippie movement may have been founded on the idea of everything being free – but one had to be realistic.

I hunted high and low for the Yellow Pages, but to no avail. The reason was they were pink.

But they were much the same as the yellow version in my old world and I quickly found a list of numismatists – one of whom put me onto a specialist dealer for notaphilists.

From him, I was able to secure a couple of hundred period bucks, which I ordered to be couriered to my flat.

By this time I was hungry, so I got Mum to make me a BIG meal while I waited for the vintage money to arrive.

After dinner, I returned to my flat with the envelope and having extracted the bread, put it into my jeans pocket, slid The Device (as I had now come to think of it) into the small key-pocket and sewed the top closed. Then I showered, dressed – and felt as ready as I ever would be.

I put the Woodstock disk on, selected Joe Cocker’s set and lay back on my bed, waiting…

Moonchild

I awoke in a tent. Outside, I could hear Joe’s voice break as he hit the wail in the middle of “With A Little Help From My Friends” – I was here.

But I became aware I was not alone. I turned around to see one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen. She was about twenty, with an enormous mane of long, dark hair. “Where did you come from, man?” she asked, her mouth open.

“Erm… from where Fate meets Eternity,” I said, with a confidence I did not feel. Would she scream?

“Far out,” she replied, giggling.

I realised that while I was on a trip, so was she. However, my reverie might not last long – according to my earlier research, not all hippies were into free love. “Where’s your guy?” I asked, hesitantly.

“Oh, he split,” she said, “He was pissed ’cause Dylan’s not here.”

“I’m Max,” I said, holding out my hand.

She took my hand and kissed it. “I’m Moonchild.”

“Far out,” I said.

We went outside and lay there, talking about music, love and life.

Eventually, Ten Years After began their first number, but I was in no mood for them right now. She lit up the biggest joint I had ever seen and said, “Wanna go someplace?”

We climbed back in the tent and the hours became as hazy as the air in it. I recall making love with Moonchild many, many times.

Around midnight we stumbled outside, picked up a couple of beers and found a burger stand. We ate two and took a couple more back to the tent.

After we had polished them off, I sat looking at this angel and asked her, “What was wrong with your guy?”

“Oh, he was an arsehole,” she said. Arsehole?

“You’re nice, man” she said.

I could not think of an answer to that, so we made love again.

Afterwards, she popped a pill and swilled it down with the remains of her beer. “It is Saturday, isn’t it?”

“Er, no – Sunday.”

“You sure?”

“Pretty much.”

“Uh-oh.”

“What?”

“Never mind. Look, I’ve been here three days now – I think it’s time I was getting back to New York.”

“Oh, no,” I said, “You must wait ’til tomorrow morning.”

“Why?”

“Two words – Jimi Hendrix.”

“He was supposed to be on tonight…”

“He’ll be on in the morning – and you do not want to miss him, trust me.”

“Oh… okay.”

We cuddled up together. Since it was now late and getting cold, I had my jeans (with The Device) on.

I lay there with this vision of loveliness asleep on my lap. But for that hair, she looked like a younger version of my Mum. They say men are attracted to women who resemble their mothers. I was not sure about that… I was determined not to allow myself to sleep…

I awoke in my flat – alone.

Shit.

And I had missed Hendrix, too.

I showered and changed into something more modern, then went into the main house for breakfast.

I sat, reflecting. Dad said, “Penny for ’em, lad.”

“Oh, I was thinking about Woodstock.”

“Hah! Your mother was there, lad.”

“Now you keep quiet, Frank,” said Mum.

“Oh come on, the lad’s over thirty now – isn’t it about time to tell him the truth?”

“Oh, tell him what you want,” Mum retorted and stomped off to the kitchen.

I raised my eyebrows at Dad. “She doesn’t like to talk about it now, but your mother was something of a Wild Child in her youth. She worked for that music paper – the New Melody Express. They sent her on assignment to New York for a year.”

“Really?”

“Yes. I first met her on the tube when she was coming back. I thought she was a Yank, given her accent. We got talking, one thing led to another and you were born eight months later. Apparently, you were in a hurry.”

“Wow,” I mumbled.

“Of course, she looked a lot different then. She had long, dark hair. A real hippie chick. Naturally, the name Eunice wouldn’t have cut it then – she called herself Moonchild.”

The Morning After

I sat there, stunned.

Just then, Mum came back in.

Dad said, “I was telling him how you came to be at Woodstock. It was about a month before you came back off that New York assignment, wasn’t it?”

Mum frowned, but did not answer. I made my excuses and headed for my flat.

Could there be any doubt? No. I had cuckolded my own father. Hell, I was my own father. And as for my mother…

Of course, it would only have been natural when, as I grew up, I began to resemble the guy who had… And anyway, she had been pretty stoned at the time – there was no reason for her to have ever suspected the truth.

Poor old Dad. He had always figured I was his. But – in this existence, at least – I was mine.

So what now?

Well, the reason Moonchild had not come with me now seemed obvious. She was already in this time line. And it followed that my entry into it meant the other version of me was no more, either.

At least everything was still as it had been when I left. Or was it? I jumped up and checked myself in the mirror. The familiar face looked back at me.

Then again, if I had changed, Mum and Dad would have said something. Unless they had changed too…

But if I had been born as the result of a union between my Mum and original Dad, how come I still looked the same as before – now being the result of a union between my Mum and myself?

I began to appreciate the full import of the word paradox. My head was beginning to hurt.

I had to move on.

I began by re-examining The Device. Cleaning it properly for the first time, I discovered it was gold in colour – with facets. Plain, hard and smooth.

It was obvious that trying to open it would likely destroy it. In addition, it probably had a lot of power, so cracking it apart might actually be dangerous.

Whatever, I needed to find a better way of protecting it than sewing it into my clothes. Then I had an idea.

I scoured the Internet and eventually found what I needed. It was a tough plastic bracelet with a compartment that was designed to hold pills. It was intended for people with important pill regimens – but it would also serve for time travellers who needed to protect their Devices.

Time travellers. There was a thought. Was I the only one – at least, on this planet? I had heard it said that time travel had to be impossible – otherwise we would be inundated with them. But on another planet…

To business: I measured my leg, just above the ankle, then measured The Device and ordered a bracelet that would fit both dimensions – once again, to be couriered to me.

So now what? If I was not safe at Woodstock, where would I be safe?

I spent the rest of the day considering options and doing Internet research on them. But the problems I could encounter with any trip seemed insurmountable.

For instance – how about a trip to pre-historic times? No danger of encountering anyone, there. But I would have to survive being chased by dinosaurs for a day – not to mention being crapped on by giant pterosaurs.

Of course, had this been an American movie, I would have gone tooled up – but as a middle-class Brit, I could no sooner procure a Kalashnikov than I could a nuclear sub. Plus I was not Arnold Schwarzenegger – more Margaret Rutherford.

No, that one could wait.

How about finding out who Jack The Ripper was? Yes, but at best all I would discover was that he was some bloke. Unless he turned out to be someone famous. Unlikely. Even if I photographed him, he would still just be some bloke. And while I would have finally solved the mystery, I could not tell anyone about it.

Pointless.

I could go and see Sinatra perform in Vegas. The Beatles do Shea Stadium. Oh… there were no Beatles here. Okay – Gershwin play “Rhapsody In Blue” – Tod Slaughter perform at the Elephant and Castle – they were before 1936. Hell, I could even check out Prokofiev. The world’s greatest artists were there for the enjoying.

Yes – that was what I would do. Period money and clothes. And talk to no-one.

There was a knock at the door. It was Dad. “There’s another package for you – I signed for it.”

“Thanks Dad.” After he had left, I opened the package, placed The Device in the bracelet’s pill compartment and secured the thing to my ankle. It was more comfortable than I had expected – I would hardly be aware I was wearing it. I pulled my trouser-leg down over it and went through to get some dinner.

Mum had calmed down and was her old self once again – but I could not bring myself to look at her.

Afterwards, I returned to my flat and scanned my library of Greenray disks for some entertainment. “James Bond: Goldfinger” caught my eye. I had seen it many times before, but would it be the same here? There was only one way to find out. I undressed and lay on the bed to watch it.

But I had forgotten to remove the bracelet

The Most Famous Car In The World

I awoke naked, in a dark, dark wood – the frigid night air enveloping me like Dracula’s cloak.

Oh, this was my worst nightmare. I stumbled around until eventually I saw a series of lights atop a high, wire fence – behind which was what looked like a series of warehouses. I scaled it and dropped to the ground on the other side.

Hoping I did not meet a guard dog, I made my way carefully along the side of the nearest building. I looked around the corner and saw a sign which read “costumes” – what?

Well I could certainly use one of those.

It felt freakishly fortunate, but I was not in a mood to argue with fate. I sneaked in and saw the warehouse was filled with thousands of costumes. I could choose anything from a centurion’s uniform to a space suit.

I decided to go for something a little less ostentatious. Quickly, I found a pair of black size ten shoes and likewise socks – but as I moved to the clothes section, I heard approaching feet. I grabbed a pair of slacks and a shirt that looked about my size and ran.

Finding myself in a corridor with seats, I hurriedly put the clothes on. The shirt turned out to be a blouse and I had trouble with the slacks – until I realised the zip was at the back. Damn, I had got them from the women’s section.

Beggars cannot be choosers, so I put them on anyway. The slacks were tight – and I had no underpants. Then I heard the sound of more steps coming around the corner.

I rose and began walking in the opposite direction. Behind me, I heard, “Oooh, get the fresh meat!”

I quickened my pace and after a few more turns, found a door which opened onto a small car park. My eyes immediately settled on a silver Aston Martin DB5. It was magnificent.

Then I noticed the registration number – BMT 216A. I was in Pinewood film studios, looking at James Bond’s Aston Martin, from Goldfinger – the Most Famous Car In The World.

I got inside. Immediately the smell of leather hit me, reminding me of the chair in Edward’s bedroom. What was it with rich people and leather?

Hey – if I went to sleep in this

No. That was stupid. How could I possibly explain it to Mum and Dad – or anyone else? Plus, today the car was worth millions – it would attract way too much attention. I would be less conspicuous riding a unicorn.

But perhaps I could just have a little drive? No, I would get busted – then they would find The Device. Forget it.

Just then, a shout rang out. I looked to see its source – it was two guys with fierce-looking guard dogs.

The key was in the ignition – I had no choice. I turned it and hit the accelerator. The engine roared into life. The whole car vibrated like a living thing. I smacked the skinny gear lever into first, spun the wooden steering wheel towards the exit and let in the clutch.

The beast leapt forward, narrowly missing the left pillar. Once outside, I swerved around a little roundabout and saw the main gate ahead. My luck held – it was up, to allow someone else in. I barrelled the Aston through the gap between the gatehouse and the other car.

Then all at once I was hurtling across Iver Heath, the roadster’s powerful headlights cutting a swath down the tunnel made by the trees. I seemed to hear the sound of trumpets – conducted by John Barry, of course.

My mood of exaltation was reduced a bit when I saw a revolving blue light in my rear-view mirror.

But then I suddenly found I did not care – I was James Bond!! Those woodentops could never catch me! I dropped the transmission two gears and floored the car – it could fly…

Suddenly, I saw lights up ahead. It was a town. My euphoria evaporated. Careering around the Buckinghamshire countryside in this vintage supercar was one thing, but in a built up area, someone could die – possibly me.

Nevertheless, having opened up a fair lead on the police car, I still had options. I eased the speed down and, seeing a cinema was emptying out, turned the car into the next street, leapt out and smoothly merged with the crowd.

The cop-car arrived and its occupants scanned the crowd, hoping someone would bolt – but I was not that stupid.

However, I had that old problem again – no blasted money.

Then a guy next to me asked if I had enjoyed the film. “Oh yes,” I said, quickly looking up. The marquee said My Fair Lady. “Fabulous costumes,” I added.

“You’re wearing a pretty fabulous costume yourself,” said my new friend, with a knowing smile.

Oh dear, I thought.

“Let’s get some fish and chips,” he said, “My treat.”

I was hungry, had no money and needed a bed for the night. But could I keep this guy at arm’s length? I was straight – as my mother could confirm – oh no, don’t go there, I thought.

Flustered, I said okay – and knew I would regret the decision. I was regretting it already.

To cut a long and embarrassing story short, I managed to avoid being indoctrinated into the ways of man-love that night – but only just.

I eventually told him I had a headache, but would make it up to him in the morning. He seemed unconvinced – I suspect he had heard that before. He answered that he was “resting” anyway, but I was welcome to stay.

It was a long time before I fell asleep…

Pause For Thought

The first thing I did on waking – in my flat – was to put the bracelet containing The Device back in the safe. And I wrapped it back up in the chicken foil for good measure.

I needed time to think. Last night’s drive in the Aston had been very exciting and all that – actually, I had felt the most alive I had ever been in my life – but commonsense had to prevail if I was going to survive this thing.

My new existence was comfortable. I had a good income and no need to work. This left me free to travel where and when I wished. All I needed to do was keep my head down – not change anything – and I could enjoy the best music in the world. Anywhere, anytime.

But was this enough? Sitting in a variety of seats – watching other people perform. What about me?

They say the worst thing that can happen to someone is that all their dreams come true. Well, this life was a dream all right. But I was destined to be an observer, not a doer.

It seemed unlikely The Device could take two people – it tuned into the brain and no two people’s brains are the same. Thus my journey though time would be a solo one.

And if I met someone on my travels, like Moonchild (but whom hopefully next time I would not be related to) my relationship with them would last no longer than a day. I had heard of rock musicians who had spent each night with a different girl for years. It sounded great – until you thought about it…

Then there was another consideration.

Thanks to my encounter with Edward 8, my new life had cost the lives of millions of people. Stalin said one death is a tragedy – a million is just a statistic. But I was not that callous.

Maybe I could not stop WW2, but having inadvertently made it twice as bad – at least in terms of the numbers dead – I had to do something. If not, my life of gadding about time, taking in the world’s most extraordinary entertainment – would slowly destroy me.

It would be a life wasted. And one which had been created on the back of the destruction of millions of my fellow human beings.

It was a monstrous wrong which I had had no part of inflicting on them – but one which I and only I had the power to reverse. And there was just one clear route to that end…

I had to kill Hitler.

But given the trouble I had already got into, doing apparently safe, mundane things – this would require a lot of thought.

First, I needed to research the man. Pre-1936, his history was the same as it had been in my old existence. He was born in a village called Ranshofen, in Austria, near the border with Germany, on the twentieth of April, 1889. He had stayed there for about three years, after which his family had moved to…

But did I need to know more?

I knew he had fought in WW1, which meant he would likely have been more than I could handle, by then. No, if I was going to do this thing, it had to be…

Oh, crap.

Let’s Kill Hitler

Finding the precise address where Alois and Klara Hitler had lived in Ranshofen proved to be no easy task. But after extensive use of my computer’s translator, coupled with an exploration of many websites – including some decidedly dubious ones – I now had the address I needed. It had to be correct, considering what I intended to do…

I spent several days acquiring what I would need. My earlier source of period money came across with the necessary finance. A theatrical costumier supplied me with a nondescript period outfit. And one of those dubious websites led me to a Thai company who sold stun-guns.

And being adept at electronics, I knew how to convert them into lethal devices.

This last was a relief. I knew I could not strangle a baby. I also knew lethal injections are less easy to deliver than TV programmes like “Dexter” would have people believe. And I balked at driving a blade through the infant’s heart. I was killing Hitler, not Dracula.

No, technology would make the job comparatively easy.

Thus it was that I finally lay down on my bed, ready for action. I had my costume on, with the period money in a pocket. The Device was in the bracelet, secured to my left leg. Two of the modified stun-guns (in case of failure) were strapped to my right. The batteries in both would be good for ten minutes – more than enough for the job.

Suspended above me was a whiteboard with a picture of Klara (she looked quite sweet) and another of the baby Hitler at around six months of age. He looked cute too – but I could not think about that.

Underneath the pictures was a c1900 map of Ranshofen with the Hitlers’ residence circled in red. And underneath that, the words, “10:00 – July 20th – 1889” written in large, bold characters.

I knew from my research that Hitler’s three younger siblings all died in infancy and his two older ones would not be born yet. Alois had two kids from an earlier marriage, but they would be at school.

And Alois would be at work, so all I had to deal with was Klara and a three-month-old baby. 

Again, it was a long time before sleep enveloped me.

I woke up, lying on a pavement. I quickly got up and looked around. Luckily, the street was deserted, save for an old lady who was walking away from me, her back turned. I began walking in the other direction.

At the end of the street, I checked the names on the signs, comparing them with a smaller copy of the map, which I had also brought with me. The latter was hardly necessary as I had studied it for so long, I knew it by heart. I was on the street where Hitler lived.

Having prepared so carefully, I now had to improvise. I checked my watch – it was two minutes past ten. I began walking towards the house. I had figured I would simply knock on the door and when Klara answered, leap on her – as I had Eddy 8 – and zap.

Then I would find baby Adolf and zap again.

But suddenly, I saw a woman walking toward me from the other end of the street, pushing a pram. I slowed my pace, but continued. She stopped at a front gate, opened it and pushed the pram through. As she closed it, I passed and nodded. I had just met Klara Hitler.

I continued walking until I reached the corner, then sat down on a convenient bench. I watched as Klara pushed the pram up the garden path and parked it by the front door. She opened the door, bent down and looked inside the pram – then left it where it was and entered the house, closing the door behind her.

She had obviously figured her child would benefit from the fresh, summer air. Not today.

The street was still deserted, so I made my way quickly back to the house. The number was correct. The woman was Klara. There was no possibility of error.

I crept up the garden and looked into the pram. Even though babies look similar, this one looked exactly like the picture of the baby Hitler. I had to go through with this. Zap.

The task completed, I walked quickly back down the path, vaulted over the gate and strode away, my heart pounding.

I walked to a public park that I knew of from the map and selected a bench. The park was built on a hill, but as it was a hot day, I chose one near the bottom, under a shady tree.

My original thought had been to make for a hotel, but I had dismissed the idea as being too risky. I had no papers and my command of basic German was minimal, let alone the Austrian dialect.

And even though I had period money, I had only taken that for emergencies. I dare not buy anything – not even food. No, I would just wait here until dark, then go to sleep on the bench. I could eat when I got home.

Of course, that was always assuming I had a home to go to. And assuming I even existed in the second new world I had just created. But I would find out about that in due course. Or not, depending.

The serenity of the park, coupled with the warmth from the sun was soporific. I felt myself succumbing…

Back Home Again

I awoke once more in my flat – to find all was just as I had left it.

I rose slowly and looked through the window. I could see the backs of the houses on the next street and they appeared to be unchanged. Their square BBC dishes were still there.

I moved to the TV and switched it on. I turned it to the news channel – and nothing. There had been no apparent change from the world I had left, the previous evening.

How could that be? I had killed Hitler, for chrissakes – that had to change something.

I sat down at my computer and BBC History-searched my nemesis, Adolf.

There he was, same as ever. Bastard. And WW2 had ended the same way I had left it – with Berlin decimated by a British nuclear bomb.

I needed to go deeper. After a long search, I managed to locate the online version of a newspaper that might help. Ranshofen was only a village, but the nearby town of Braunau Am Inn had a local daily that covered Ranshofen – and went back centuries.

Using my computer’s translator, I hit the archives and scanned the issue from the day in question. I almost missed the story I needed – it was only a small entry on page five.

A Greta Schröder had reported her baby missing. Missing? I read on: Greta had taken her baby Wolfgang to the local food shop and had parked the infant outside in his pram. Upon returning, only a couple of minutes later, the pram was empty. Police enquiries were continuing.

I read the rest of the issue, but that was it.

So I checked the next day’s edition – and this time, the story was on page one.

A man walking his dog in a nearby wood had found the corpse of a baby, nestled in some undergrowth. Given the previous day’s event, the police had sent for Greta to attend the morgue and identify the remains.

The coroner had pulled the sheet back, at which point Greta had became hysterical, screaming that the tiny body was not that of her Wolfgang.

Given that Ranshofen was a small town and only one baby had been lost and the next day, one found – the police came to the logical conclusion that Greta was in denial. So they insisted the woman’s husband, Günther, view the body.

He did so, but said he could not be sure. The small, carnivorous animals in the wood had done what came naturally to them – and anyway, his contact with the infant had not been as intimate as his wife’s had been.

In those days, this was not unusual – the baby had only been a few months old and fathers rarely had intimate contact with their sons until they were old enough to converse. And even then, father-son relationships were pretty formal.

Inevitably, the police turned their attention to the couple (since they were right there in front of them) but an independent reliable witness had met the woman outside the shop and seen the baby in the pram. And she had been with her when Greta had left the shop and found Wolfgang missing.

And so the police questioned Günther. But he had been at work, several kilometres away, at the time in question – and there were a number of independent reliable witnesses to that.

Furthermore, the Schröders had no other children – or obvious enemies. They were just a poor, honest, nondescript couple, whom no-one had a problem with.

Thus, the crime being seemingly motiveless and all leads having been dutifully followed, the police announced that they were satisfied the body found had been that of Wolfgang Schröder and would search relentlessly for the killer.

This of course meant that while the file would be left open, nothing further would be done – unless another baby went missing or turned up dead. There were no Central Criminal Records in those days.

I had my suspicions about what might have happened, but I needed confirmation. And the only way I could obtain it was to observe what had happened after I had left the scene.

Which meant I needed to go back.

But this raised a new issue. My previous excursions had led me to believe that two versions of the same person could not exist in the same time line. But whilst that appeared to be true of the present – would it also apply to the past?

There was only one way to find out.

After dinner, I returned to my flat, put my period clothes back on, made sure my money, The Device and – in case of trouble – my stun-guns were in place. Then I erased “10:00” on the whiteboard, replaced it with “09:50” and lay down waiting…

Return To Ranshofen

I found myself back on the pavement again.

This time, the street was totally deserted. I quickly got up again and checked my watch. 09:51. If I got captured, I would have to lose this watch. I should have bought an antique one. Too late now.

I looked around and decided the best point of observation would be a clump of bushes, just behind the bench I had sat on before. I walked up to them, then satisfying myself that no-one was watching, crouched down inside them.

From here, I could observe the Hitlers’ abode, the pavement where I had just appeared – and appeared before – and the high street the food shop was on, where young Wolfgang had been abducted. Perfect.

I checked my watch again and then fixed my gaze at that spot on the pavement…

The old woman came around the corner at the bottom of the street and passed the spot. Then, as I watched, my “earlier” self just – materialised.

No puff of smoke, no shimmer or flash of light. Just one split-second I was not there – the next split-second I was. Despite the lack of SFX, since it was real, it was an eerie sight.

I watched myself get up and walk down the street, then turn around and walk back, then pass and nod at Klara, then head towards the bench in front of me.

It was awfully tempting to have a chat with myself – but it would have introduced all sorts of paradoxes. Besides, I had a job to do.

Thus I remained crouching – and saw the other me get up, go to the Hitlers’ residence, do the deed and set off to the park.

Then the events I had come to see began. Klara came out of the house and bent over the pram. The scream I had been expecting never came. She just stood there. Minutes went by and she did not move.

Suddenly she turned, shut the front door and pushed the pram down the garden path. Opening the gate, she turned in the other direction and went off with the pram.

Thanks to the map I had, I knew where she was going. The wood where the baby was found was at the top of the road. I did not need to risk her seeing me – she would be back before long.

So I waited in the clump of bushes. It was twenty minutes before she returned, by which time my hideout was becoming a tad uncomfortable. However, I had to watch the drama play out.

She came towards me, then turned, crossed the road, went around the corner and trotted off down the high street.

I watched as she paused outside the food shop, saw as she snatched the baby, placed it in her pram and headed back my way. But before she got close enough to see me, I sped up the road and making sure I was unobserved, hopped over her fence and crept around the back of the house.

Fortunately, the back garden was a tangle of bushes (Alois was no gardener) and I managed to find a hiding place from where I could see into the living room and the kitchen.

And so I listened as Klara wheeled the pram up the garden path. I heard the front door slam and moments later she appeared in the kitchen, where she lifted the baby out of the pram, stared at it for several seconds, then proceeded to undress it.

She changed its nappy, then dressed it in new clothes, being careful to wrap them around the baby’s head, so only the little face was visible.

Finally she burned the old nappy and clothes in the kitchen’s cooking range.

Just then, I heard the front gate open. Klara had obviously heard it too – a look of terror swept her face. Quickly, she took the baby into the living room and laid it in a cot.

Alois came into the room.

Alois Hitler

I had never seen such a brute of a man. He scared me.

As Klara stood there, visibly shaking, his ugly face turned to the cot and became even more hideous. But after a second, I realised he was actually smiling. He bent his huge frame over the cot and tickled the baby’s chin. It smiled back up at him and he chuckled. Even his chuckle was filled with menace, but I saw Klara relax a little.

She knew she had gotten away with it.

I had now found out all I could. I just needed to get out of there, without being detected.

Making less sound than a shadow in brothel creepers, I crept out of the garden, down the side passage and hopped over the front fence and away.

I returned to the same park I had sat in, the day before. I was relieved to discover my other self had already vanished – but I still chose a different bench to wait on.

As the sun began to set, I ruminated on what I had learned. I had never been a fan of sci-fi, but I knew what the words “causal loop” meant. And now it appeared I was part of one.

But could it really be? If I had not intervened, would Wolfgang have led a blameless life and Adolf become the Führer? Or had I killed an innocent person and been responsible for a monster taking his place? In both scenarios, the result had been the same.

My head was beginning to hurt again…

Time To Reflect

Back home once again, I began to consider these people. 

I felt for Klara.

According to what I had read, her marriage to Alois was more or less arranged – and was at least semi-incestuous. She had then born him three children, not one of which had lived to celebrate its third birthday – the last had died within days.

And with relations between Alois and the two children he had from a previous marriage being somewhat strained, it was easy to see how important a new family was to him.

So when Gustav, Ida and Otto all died, he undoubtedly made their mother’s life a living hell. And now she had presented him with a fourth child…

Thus one cannot imagine the torment Klara had endured, for it to have resulted in the death of her baby concerning her less than the thought of what Alois would do to her when he discovered it had happened on her watch.

However, I could not concern myself with that. My problem was how to rid the world of its greatest-ever tyrant. Klara and her family were only a handful of people. My evening with Ed 8 had resulted in the deaths of millions. And Stalin was wrong – they were not  just a statistic.

There was only one solution to the problem – I had to take out all of the Hitlers…

Lets Kill Hitler: Again

I lay on the bed once more – equipped as before, but with the addition of a butter knife and a shaded torch. I had changed the time on the whiteboard above me to 03:00. All I could do now was wait…

I awoke on the same paving stone – but now it was dark. The only relief came from a handful of sputtering gas lamps. That suited me fine.

I rose and looked both ways down the street. Nothing. I then moved over to the Hitlers’ domicile and vaulted over the fence once again. Switching on the shaded torch, I made my way around to the back garden.

It was all too easy. I knew the Hitlers had no dog (a potential problem that had not occurred to me before) and having seen their windows, I figured the butter knife would be sufficient to gain me entry – it was.

Once settled in the kitchen, I moved with the speed of an arthritic snail. Inch by inch, I crept up the stairs to the bedrooms. I began with the front one. Turning the knob millimetrically, I slipped into the room. As I had suspected, it was Alois and Klara’s.

I unhitched the two stun-guns and moved like a ghost until I was hovering over the sleeping couple. I positioned the two weapons over their necks and – zap, zap.

Poor little Klara went out like a light, but it was almost a minute before I was sure Alois had breathed his last. He was a tough son-of-a-bitch, I had to give him that.

Next I crept slowly across the landing to the rear bedroom and again let myself in with minute precision. This time, two kids were in the bed. They had to be Alois Jnr and Angela – the children from Alois Snr’s first marriage.

In my time, they would not have been allowed to share a bed – but the Hitlers were that kind of family. They made the Addams Family look like the Waltons.

And having read how the two had turned out, I had no qualms about saving the world and them a lot of trouble. Zap, zap.

Finally I could relax a bit – but I still had Adolf to deal with. Where the hell was he? The house was detached, but small. It only had two upper rooms. I returned to the front bedroom, my eyes now more accustomed to the gloom. In the corner of Alois and Klara’s room, I saw the cot.

As I looked down at the baby Führer, I saw how similar he was to the infant I had zapped last time. I had reckoned the task would be easier this time. It was not. Particularly when Adolf suddenly opened his eyes and smiled at me.

I could not do it.

I had to do it.

I kissed him on his little bald head – and zap.

Feeling sick, I then began the second phase of my plan. I knew that even in 1889, a coroner would be suspicious if a family had all had heart attacks on the same night. So, having blown out the pilot, I turned the gas lamp fully on. Then the gas fire.

I then did likewise with the lamp and fire in the children’s room.

And with the lamps on the upstairs landing – and those in the front room and living room, for good measure.

The smell of gas was now becoming oppressive, so I returned to the kitchen and making sure that lamp’s pilot was on – I slid over the window-sill and carefully closed the window.

The job done, I moved around the house, checked the street was empty, hopped back over the fence and headed for the park.

When I reached it, I climbed the hill and sat on the bench at the top. From there, I could clearly see the residence in question.

I knew that gas was a tricky thing. The mix in air was critical. It could cause a fire, an explosion – or if someone turned it off before the level became dangerous, nothing.

I had no way of knowing how long it would be before anything happened. Perhaps an early caller to the house would prevent anything dramatic happening at all.

But at least the gas – poisonous in those days – would explain all those clean corpses. And that could be important. I already knew how even a tiny variance in the time line could have far-reaching consequences.

I also knew it would be a while before I could sleep, so having nothing better to do, I watched the house below. After three hours, my patience was rewarded…

A spectacular fireball blasted the roof off the house and a split second later – ka-boom! I could feel the concussion where I was.

The sound must have woken up the whole village. It was accompanied by the sound of a lot of breaking glass. I reasoned the local glazier would have a busy day tomorrow.

What remained of the house burned fiercely. Let the coroner try to sort that lot out.

After a while, my reverie passed and I began to think about my situation. I was now beginning to tire and would soon fall asleep.

What would I find upon waking? Would I even still exist?

I began to slip away…

Another New World

I staggered upright and surveyed my surroundings.

I was in a cornfield. At least, I was guessing it had once been a cornfield – right now it was wild.

I stumbled across to a gate. My attempt to climb over it caused it to collapse. It was rotted. I clambered over the remains and found myself on a small country lane – although again, I could only guess that was what it had once been.

At present, it had almost been reclaimed by nature.

What the hell had I done now?

I began walking down the track. Since I could not see any signs of life in either direction, I elected to go downhill. As I walked along, something dawned upon me – there was no bird-song. All was as quiet as a nun’s fart.

After a mile or so, I came upon a vintage car. It was covered in rust, had four flat tyres – and yet there appeared to be someone sitting in it. I walked up to the driver’s window and peered inside. A skull stared back at me.

At the bottom of the hill, I turned a corner and was presented with an extraordinary sight. A village – except that once again, it had been utterly overwhelmed by nature.

The street was overgrown, several houses had collapsed rooves – and what had once been the village green was now a jungle.

I saw the place boasted a library, so walked over and went inside. A sign said “Reference Section” – which I figured might give me some answers.

Entering the room, I found more skeletons. One was slumped over a newspaper. Not wishing to disturb him – or her – I looked around the place. In a corner was a rack of newspapers. Figuring no-one would mind, I gathered the lot together and took them out into the street.

A welcoming pub was opposite, so I crossed over to it.

As I walked into the bar, I realised it was not so welcoming. There were more skeletons, this time draped in bizarre – even lurid poses. And all of the booze was gone. It must have been some party.

Stepping back outside, I tested a bench. It had apparently been made of better quality wood than the farm gate and seemed unlikely to drop me on my arse. So I sat on it and began to read the papers.

They were dated 7th July, 1947. It did not take me long to find out what had happened.

The Nazi party had swept all before them – helmed by Wolfgang Schröder. Damn, I had forgotten about him.

Freed from the oppression of Alois, Wolfgang had gone through the educational system like a dose of salts, picking up more degrees than a thermometer – including ones in the sciences.

This had led to Germany developing its own nuclear bomb. And after annexing every country in mainland Europe, Schröder had then turned his attention to Britain and America.

The resulting battle had been fierce and fatal to all sides. Again, little had been known about fallout – and it seemed that once the world’s air currents had dispersed the silent killer, the quantity of radiation had been enough to wipe out all life on the planet.

No wonder I had heard no bird-song, while walking down the remains of that country lane.

Now, decades later, levels had doubtless returned to normal. But unless I wanted to spend the rest of my life as The Last Man On Earth, I needed to do something. Again.

My purpose seemed clear. Return to Ranshofen yet again and this time, nail Wolfgang.

This was becoming monotonous.

Then suddenly I heard a voice, “You cain’t hardly win, kin ya?”

I whirled around. A tall, lean guy wearing a huge Stetson stood there, laughing.

“Who the hell are you?” I asked – my voice sounding strangled.

In the blink of an eye, he turned into a short, chunky man in a suit. “Sorry about that – just my little joke. If you saw what I actually look like, you’d crap yourself. I could have appeared to you as Burt Reynolds – Debbie Reynolds – you name it. That bauble you’ve been playing with is mine.”

“Where… do you come from?” I ventured.

“Somewhere far, far away,” he replied, airily.

“This device is yours?” I asked, taking it out of the bracelet.

“Yes. Sometimes I drop it on an inhabited planet, just to see what will happen. You’re my best experiment so far. Oh, that interesting car of yours!”

“You mean the Aston?”

“Well, I didn’t mean your old camper.”

“Yes… well… I’m glad to have supplied you with some entertainment, but look what it’s done to my bloody planet.”

“Oh I wouldn’t worry about that. The device, as you call it, has a reset button.”

“No it doesn’t – it’s solid.”

“Really? Let me have a go.” So saying, he took the thing from my hand and pressed it in the centre. Nothing happened.

“Sometimes they’re a little stiff,” he said, pressing it harder. It gave a little click. “There you go.”

He returned it to me.

“I must be going now,” he said, “Have fun.”

“Aren’t you going to take it back?” I asked, weakly.

“No – I think you’ve got the hang of it now. I have plenty more. Look after it – it’s the only one on your planet. Bye!” Then he blinked out and I was alone again.

I stood there for some time. Finally, I put the pesky thing back in the bracelet, re-attached it to my leg and went looking for water. I found a stream and figuring the water was now safe to drink, doused my parched larynx.

Then I went back to the pub, found a bed and got in it. Bloody cheeky alien.

The End

I awoke, back in my camper. Dressing, I turned on the radio…

After a while, the news came on: Cleggy was having another handbags with Cameron over something or other, Sian Phillips (a chubby young singer – not the veteran Welsh actress) would be unable to attend the Miami leg of “The X-Factor” due to visa issues (she had once been jailed for a week, following a punch-up) a bus had been shot up in Pakistan and a cross-eyed opossum called Heidi (who had 300,000 Facebook “followers”) had been euthanized at Leipzig Zoo.

I was back.

Purposefully, I strode down to the loch. Its Stygian depths stretched before me. Summoning all my strength, I hurled The Device as far as I could. It landed with a plop, about three hundred yards out.

I knew Scottish lochs were dark and deep. They had never found the Loch Ness Monster – so The Device would never be seen again either.

Then I turned, walked back to my camper and drove off to look for some breakfast. Arriving at the village shop, I went inside and purchased a pie, a Kit-Kat and a can of Coke.

As I was getting back into the VW camper, a passer-by smiled and remarked how clean it was for its age. I smiled back and nodded my appreciation. Then I fired it up and headed off north, to finish a now well-earned holiday.

Epilogue

The next morning, one Hamish Hamilton sat down at his favourite spot on Loch McCarrup and cast his line into the inky blackness.

Hamish was not, in truth, a Fisherman – he just liked the taste of them – thus he was using a 30-pound test line. Once he hooked one of the loch’s peat-infused piscine inhabitants, he had no intention of losing it.

And on this particular morning, his luck appeared to be in. The yank on the line told him he would shortly be enjoying fresh fish for breakfast.

He wound the beastie in, knocked it on the head with his mallet, popped it in a plastic bag and headed back to his crofter’s cottage.

Once there, he selected a large knife from the kitchen canteen and slit his prize open. As usual, all manner of slimy junk – partially-digested smaller fish and a variety of pebbles – slid out into the sink.

But his attention was caught by one oddly-shaped pebble. Instead of being round, it had regular corners – with facets. And it was gold in colour.

Hamish put it in his pocket and returned his attention to the task in hand – preparing his breakfast.

He decided he would examine his find more closely after he had had a wee nap…

© Max Wellhouse 2012    all characters and situations entirely fictitious