Jarrett paid a lot of money to visit his relatives in the past, and he was nervous about the trip. Not about the whole time travel thing: the multiverse took care of any “paradox” concerns–whatever he did, he would be able to return to his time without incident. No, he was worried about meeting his heroes. “Don’t meet your heroes,” they say. Pretty straightforward warning.
But he was the first in a long line of treasure hunters, survivalists, pioneers, entrepreneurs, and inventors who made it to 30 without denting history in the slightest. He needed advice–not from his parents, who dismissed him in favour of his sister years ago. He needed wisdom from the first in a long line of Vidars to become legendary.
The doctor said, “Hold still, please,” and stuck him in the arm with a needle without waiting for Jarrett to still himself. Jarrett yelped, but the doctor made no reaction nor apology. Really, she seemed bored, like she’d been preparing people for time travel for decades. Given the saggy look of her, she probably had been.
“This will pre-inoculate you for the most common illnesses and diseases at the time period you’re assigned to,” she droned, turning her back and putting the needle away. Assigned to. She really makes it sound like a goddamned adventure. “Any unexpected changes to your physiology will alert us through the tracking drones in your bloodstream and we’ll pull you straight back to 2123,” she continued, back still turned even though she wasn’t working on anything. “Your molecules will realign in 1839 in a barn owned by your ancestor. Good luck.”
And without asking if he was ready, she tapped at her handheld device, and Jarrett was obliterated.
He realigned, still in a sitting position, on top of a pile of hay. He felt extraordinarily uncomfortable–not because of the molecule realignment, but because several spears of hay protruded from his skin and clothing. He pulled them out like a straw from a juicebox, wincing. Blood collected at the tips–he could have signed a devil’s contract with them. He thought he felt queasy, like he was carsick, but realized it was just in his mind. The doctor said that might happen.
He walked out of the barn, pushing the door open. Sunlight spilled inside, and he saw that there were no animals–only old tools and wet hay.
“Who goes there?”
Jarrett jumped. In the light of the sun he saw a silhouette approach. When his eyes adjusted, he saw a glare off the metal of a musket in the hands of an old man. He recognized the man immediately, though here he looked more disheveled and thin than the history book photographs. There was no resemblance to Jarrett.
“Mr. Olin Vidar?” Jarrett asked.
“I did not introduce myself to you, sir,” said Vidar, raising his musket to his shoulder.
“I’ve heard of you.”
“I have heard of you, sir. Read books of your–”
“Boy, them books is hogwash for my sons and sons’ sons,” Vidar shouted. “Never paid for no history, have ya? Ha! I see it was money well spent.”
“What do you mean?” Jarrett asked.
“I mean them books you read, I paid to have them canonized. They are a fiction, boy. No one in the world knew my name before. Now school kids will read a me years down the line. No making nothing of yourself in this land without fambly history. Now my grandkids will be the supposed heirs to a treasure hunter’s fortune. Worth investing in, eh? The will have a name people of heard a. You should do the same thing, boy. Them scribes need stories now that books are gettin so poplar back east.”
“So your legacy is all made up?” Jarrett asked. “For the history books?”
“Some truth in’t,” Vidar said, lowering his musket. “Mostly not. Fambly is important to me, sir. Even if I never profit, my name will mean something to someone some day. And that will help my fambly line prosper better than I ever did.”
Not me, Jarrett thought. A name means nothing if you’re a nothing to the bone.
“Thanks for your time, Mr. Vidar,” Jarrett said, then laughed at his own pun.
“Now hold on, boy. I just told you fambly is important to me. I cannot risk you refutin my investment.” He raised his gun once again. Jarrett stopped smiling. Slowly, he put up his hands.
“Then why tell me?” he asked.
“Tell you or not, you have seen my land,” said Vidar. “I am no fortune-holdin treasure hunter. I am a failed farmer, starved and dyin. But that will not be my boys, or my boys’ boys.”
“But I’m–” said Jarrett, before the musket ball struck his heart.
He realigned in 2123. The ball didn’t join the rest of his molecules, but it was too late anyway. He was the only Vidar to die without a legacy.
Day 205’s three random writing prompt categories were, “Legend,” “Time travel,” and, “Distant relatives.”
Pretty good combo today. And I swear, I’ll write a happy ending someday.