When i dug the spiral-bound Durham Literary Guild from the bottom of the suitcase, it blew the dust off a long-abandoned corner of my memory. i had obviously submitted something to the publication (which ruined me, for many years, on the actual dictionary definition of the word “guild”). i thumbed through the book from back to front. It was filled with short pieces, mostly poetry, that occupied less than half a page. Then i saw this epic, multi-page, multi-chapter story that ate up the bulk of the book, and as i flipped through page after page i thought “who the hell does this kid think he is?” Of course, the story was mine.
And here it is.
The Legacy of Time
I am Mark Laughn and this is my story.
On April 15, 1990, in the town of Willow Valley, I found behind the wall panels of an old memorial building on 34th Street an old journal, dated 1879. The first few pages were damaged far beyond what I was able to read, but the first clear entry read:
January 18, 1879
Regarding my discovery from two days ago. It seems that this metal canister that I found reacts very strangely to heat. When held over a stove, it releases moisture and shrinks to about one inch less than its regular circumference. Finding this rather odd, I thought to myself
“Could this effect be reversed?”. Upon investigating my idea I figured that if the effect was to be reversed, then the opposite action must be performed.
With this in mind, I went about filling a wash basin with fresh, cool water from the stream behind my house. When I placed the canister in the water, it immediately swelled up and took with it a considerable amount of water from the basin.
What I have yet to figure out is where did this canister come from and what was its nature? All that is there to work with is a strange inscription on the side of this small, barrel-shaped object. To this date, no one has been able to decipher it, but an expert on archaic inscriptions named Doctor John Reid is on his way here from Boston. If weather permits, he shall arrive in two days. Maybe then and only then can this mystery be solved.
I wasn’t too clear on what this person was writing about. An age old antique maybe. But that still wouldn’t account for the strange characteristics of this canister.
The next entry went on to say that the canister was silver in colour and that it was absolutely weightless. One sentence I found was particularly interesting:
I took it to the blacksmith, who said it was of a very strange material– ” The metal,” he said, ” almost seems to glow…”.
As stated in the book, the blacksmith tried to melt open the canister, but this proved impossible because of the canister’s strange reaction to heat. Then i read the forth entry:
January 21, 1879
Today, Dr. Reid arrived in his coach. He came up with some rain on his way, and the ferry was delayed a day for unknown reasons. But when he saw the inscriptions in the canister, he made me swear never to tell a soul about their translation.
At first he read the inscriptions silently, and then turned to me with eyes as wide as saucers.
“Where did you get this?” he asked frantically.
I told him of how I just found the thing sitting beside the stream behind the house. It bore no dents or scratches… It just sat there …
He then went back to the markings.
“The inscriptions say that this canister was sent here on…”
At this part he shuddered.
“It was sent here on March 18, 3023, and in order to send it back, it will need a…remote control from a…a… a television?”
At first, I thought that it had to be a joke. I mean who’s ever heard of a…television? But Dr. Reid, being the superstitious man that he is, thought it would be best that I find this remote control thing and send the canister back immediately.
In the meantime, I have hidden the canister in the church where no one would ever think of looking. I still have no idea how I’ll get a hold of a remote control, or what I’m going to do with it, but I will not rest until the canister is in the hands of its rightful owner.
I decided that what I had best do first is to find the canister. So the next morning I hid the journal under my bed (where else would a twelve year old hide something?) and I hiked it down two blocks to St. Peter’s Catholic Church. Willow Valley’s a small town, mind you, so when I read the last paragraph in the journal, I knew exactly where to look–we only had one church.
The inside of the church looked gigantic, as almost all churches do. There were three columns of pews which were surrounded by huge stained glass windows with what I thought were the most beautiful designs engraved on them–the birth of Christ, the Crucifixion and others were portrayed in vivid, colourful pictures. There was a large pipe organ resting behind the podium, and the polished oak beams held up the ceiling in magnificent arcs…you’d think you were two inches tall!
The confession booths were near the back of the church, and Father Libson sat proudly outside of them, reading a long novel…Moby Dick, maybe.
I spent the whole day looking for that canister, and I was just about to give up my search when Father Libson sat up from his nap and said with his Irish accent,
“Now then…oh, hello Mark. I didn’t see you come in.”
Yeah, right. I had only been there for nine and a half hours.
Hi, Father,” I answered.
“May I do something for you?” he asked.
“Well, as a matter of fact, you may,” I answered. “Father, if I were to hide something here like, oh, say a Reebok, and I didn’t want anyone to find it in a very long time, where would I put it?”
“On your foot!” he answered, somewhat confused.
“Then what if someone hid it on me here a long time ago? Where would it be?”
“How long ago?’ he inquired.
I could see I was getting nowhere.
“Since 1879,” I answered impatiently.
“Let me get this straight. A friend of yours hid a 100 year old Reebok on you in this church and you want it back now?”
“Uh…yeah. I think so.”
“Well, son, you’re out of luck,” he said. “This church was built here in 1879. That sneaker could be anywhere. Sorry.”
What a total waste of time. I returned home with a frown on my face, and a disappointed feeling in my gut. I ate supper, and retired to my bedroom.
Before going to sleep though, I took one last look at the book. The room was dark, so I flicked on the little table lamp beside my bed and held the journal up to the light.
Until then, I had thought that the blank pages at the back of the journal were only what they seemed–blank. But in the light, I could start to make something out. It was a drawing…no…a map….and it said…..Map of St. Peter’s Catholic Church…..it was a map to the canister!
The next morning, I woke up at 6:00, ate breakfast at 6:05, and was out of the house at 6:10.
I was back in the house at 6:12, I’d changed out of my pajamas by 6:15, and I made it to the church by 6:20. Thank God I remembered the journal. One thing that I overlooked, though was that the church opened at 9:00.
As soon as I got in the church, I held the map up to the light of the church candles. It wasn’t all that hard to read, considering the fact that it was drawn while the church was still being constructed, and many parts of the church had probably been re-built over the years. But it all pointed to one place –the confession booths.
So I went outside and looked for something to use to pry up the floor panels. Maybe a strong stick would do it. In any case, I ended up taking the kickstand from my BMX. Then I visited the booths.
I wouldn’t have better on a priest occupying a booth that early in the morning, but, as the saying goes, better safe than sorry. That’s why I chose the booth that I thought was most unlikely to contain a priest. It was incredibly dark in there, but nevertheless I started prying up the floor tiles. It was awfully hard work, considering that I couldn’t see a thing in there, but I found a tad of light when I opened the little door in the partition that made it so the priest could hear you. Er…come to think of it, maybe it wasn’t such a good idea. So, I closed the little door back up – not realizing where my fingers happened to be at the time. The door slammed on my fingers, nearly squishing the life out of them.
“Oh, crud!!” I yelled. “Why do these things always happen to me?!”
The little door slid open from the other side.
“Pardon me, young man?” came a voice from the other booth. It was Father Libson.
“Er…um….forgive me father, for I have sinned.”
I dug the kickstand into a crack between the tiles.
“It has been…12 years since my last confession.”
(I was only 12 years old, but I was thinking too hard about the floor.)
“Well, sonny,” Father Libson said, “What are you confessing?”
The tile was almost out…
“Are you going to answer, son?” he asked.
At that instant, the tile popped out – but there was nothing there.
“Uh, Father,” I said, “I think I’ll be going now.”
“Hold on a minute, boy, what about your confession?” he asked.
“Oh, yeah. I…”
I couldn’t think of anything bad I had done.
So I made something up.
“I have this weird knack with destruction. Yeah, that’s it. Yesterday, I was almost caught smashing up some old church’s floor tiles.”
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t so far from the truth.
“Last night I set fire to my friend’s house, and I’, planning to make a move on a distant African embassy two weeks from now. My ultimate achievement, you ask? Nineteen convenience stores in little under two hours.:
Father Libson gasped. I then thought that I might have stretched the truth a bit too far.
“Son,” the Father said, “I think you should come back after getting some professional help.”
“Uh….good idea, Father. I’ll do that.”
After that experience, I thought it was high time to leave, but it was then that I realized the worst was not over yet. The only other possible location of the canister was in the booth that the priest was in. But the real problem with that was that Father Libson’s shift took up the whole day, and it would be the same with any other priest in the church. But how the heck do you distract a priest?
I began trying different methods.
“Oh Father Libson…” I called in a girlish voice. “My dress seems to be caught on this silly pew.”
There was no answer.
“Fire!” I yelled in a frantic tone. “The confession booths are about to catch on fire!”
Still no answer. I began to get desperate.
“Hey, Libson!” I banged on the side of the booth.
“So ‘zis where you been hidin’? I gotta score tuh settle wich you.”
There finally came an answer from inside.
“No, no my friend. It’s not me you want. It’s Father Murphy. Father Murphy’s your man!”
I was beginning to see just what kind of guy this priest was.
“Father Wibson? Open up, this is the poweece.”
“What are the poweece?”
Okay, so maybe my Elmer Fudd routine needed polishing. I decided to give it one last try.
“Someone just spotted Elvis in the churchyard!”
At that moment, Father Libson came bursting out of the booth, pausing one moment to say,
“Forgive me Lord, but this one’s a biggie,” and he tore out of the church towards the churchyard, not once remembering that the church didn’t even have a churchyard.
I hastened into the booth, and frantically smashed the floor tiles with the kickstand, but when all was thrashed and trashed, I found absolutely nothing.
With a long sigh, I slid down the wall onto a hard wooden chair that had been placed in the booth, and from there I slid down to the floor.
From that vantage point, all I could see was the ceiling of the enclosed booth, the bottom of the chair, and a loose panel underneath it.
Wait a second!
I eagerly made my way over to the panel, often hitting my head on the chair, and knowing what to do with secret panels, I pushed it in the wall as far as it would go.
That was when a hole opened above me, and a box whipped out of it, which hit me on the head and knocked me unconscious.
The next thing I remember was waking up in a large, white room….a hospital room….. and hearing some doctor or something speaking to another person.
“The whole time he was out, he kept muttering something about a box, but I couldn’t really make out what he was trying to say…”
I sat bolt upright, and was able to see a doctor speaking to my mother.
“Where is it?!” I anxiously asked. A nurse eased me back into the bed.
“Where’s what, son?” the doctor turned and asked me looking at me like I was insane.
“The box! Where’s the box?”!
My mother bent over the bed.
“Now, son,” she said to me soothingly, “I want you to get your rest. You suffered a pretty nasty bump on the head, there, and you’ve sacred the living daylights out of your father.
He’s in the waiting room now, still recovering from the shock.”
“Mom,” I worriedly asked, “how long have I been out?”
“Around two hours,” she answered.
That was when my father finally entered the room, mopping his face with a white hanky. He looked at me and smiled uneasily.
“Doctor,” he said, “All I want to know is… what hit him?”
The doctor held up the box.
“You mean to say that my son was conked out by a…a cardboard box?”
“Er..no,” the doctor replied. “It’s what was in the box that gave your son a light concussion.”
“Well…what’s in the box?”
The doctor’s face went blank.
“You haven’t even checked in the box?!”
My mom cupped a hand on his shoulder to calm him down. My dad grabbed the box from the doctor and with a look of disgust on his face, he opened it.
He lifted out a small wooden barrel and looked at it in the light.
“What is it?” he asked.
“I don’t know.” The doctor replied.
I spoke up.
“It’s a…. a…. it’s a party keg.”
“WHAT?” All three of them asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “That’s it. You can beer or pop or punch in it. I ordered it from a magazine.”
“But son,” my father said, “It’s way too small to be a party keg.”
“Small party,” I answered.
“Uh… I think we should all leave,” said the doctor. “The boy’s had a rough day.”
“Leave the canis….party keg here,” I called behind him.
He re-entered the room and put the barrel on the bedside table. The nurse placed a glass of water beside it and followed the doctor.
I looked over at the canister.
“This can’t be it,” I mumbled to myself. “The journal distinctly said that the canister was metal, and that it glowed.:
I pounded the table in frustration. The glass of water tipped over and poured its contents on the barrel.
In that moment I remember seeing the barrel grow, soaking up the water, until it grew so big that the wood strips containing it literally blew off, revealing a glowing metal canister.
It was now about the size of a melon, and I picked it up and read the inscription.
“These aren’t any hyrogliphics,” I said to myself. “These are in french!”
I could barely understand the message, but inside, I knew it said that it requires a television remote. I looked over my left shoulder and saw one. It had two red buttons on it. Crossing my fingers, I pressed the top one.
The end of the bed zoomed upwards, putting me in a 90 degree position.
I pressed the bottom button.
The other end of the bed folded up and left me sandwiched.
“Wrong controller,” I thought.
Pressing the buttons to release the bed, I looked up towards the colour T.V. The controller rested on the bottom shelf of a rack holding magazines and rubber gloves. I rolled out of the bed and crawled to the rack. Eagerly, I snatched up the remote.
Turning toward the bedside table, I pointed at the canister and pressed the channel forward button.
The canister shook, along with the whole room, and a blinding light filled the hospital’s entire west wing. The canister burst open with a monstrous boom, and then all was silent.
All was dark, too. A fuse or something must have blown, because I was submerged in total darkness. Taking in a deep breath, I felt my way over to the bed, and with great difficulty, I hoisted myself up.
A wheeze came from under the covers.
Someone else was in the bed.
Struggling with the intruding figure, I managed to bundle it up in the bedspread. The person put up an excellent fight, but I managed to contain him. That was right about when I heard a female voice saying,
“You let go of him! (smack) Let him (smack) go, you (smack) fiend!”
Figuring I was in for more smacking, I released the body. My victim, while panting heavily, revealed himself.
He was a boy that looked to be around my age and my height, though I couldn’t make out too many details since the room was so dark. He spoke to the other.
“Kris, get the lights.”
I turned and watched the girl point her fingers in the direction of the lights, and before you could say “Boy, what a neat magical power,” the room lit up.
“Who are you?” The boy asked.
I could see now that he was a boy of about 13, with blond hair, standing a few inches shorter than me, and he wore a white T-shirt, blue jeans and a black leather jacket. He was also wearing a very strange looking pair of shades — pure black with nothing hooked around his ears.
“I was about to ask you the same question,” I answered.
The girl checked her watch.
“What year is it?” She asked me. I turned to face her.
She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen.
Her hair was soft and hazel-brown, her skin was milky white, her lips were a passionate red, and her body was…..
“You know,” she said, “It’s really not nice to stare.”
“Who cares…” I replied in a trance.
The boy approached me.
“I’m Troy,” He said.
“Who cares…” I repeated.
“I’m Kris,” the girl said, looking at me kind of funny.
“I love you too,” I said. She giggled.
It was then that I noticed I was wearing one of those hospital gowns that was open at the back. I whispered to Troy.
“Is my butt sticking out?”
I leaped into the bed with renewed enthusiasm (not to mention embarassment).
“I really need to know what year it is,” Kris said, as I watched Troy feel around the ground for something.
“What’s the matter with him — lose a contact?” I chuckled.
“Not exactly,” she answered. “He’s blind.”
I kept smiling.
“You’re kidding me, right?”
She shook her head in seriousness.
“Those glasses enable him to see. They don’t work so well indoors, though.”
Okay, so maybe she was crazy. She was still absolutely gorgeous.
“So… when did they make these miracle glasses and… why haven’t I heard of them?”
“They’re very well recognized — invented back in 2998. Now, getting back to the year…”
“Wait a second,” I said. “Did you say 2998?”
She game me a yes on that one.
“But that’s impossible…we’re only at 1990 now…”
Troy looked up.
Kris turned to the boy.
“Did you hear that? We have to find that pod fast!”
They both began frantically searching for something or other…
“It can’t be too hard to find,” Troy said, “The thing glows so much.”
“Oh, you mean the canister?” I asked, holding it up.
They both at the same time lunged forward, as if they were starving and I was a Big Mac, and snatched up the canister from my grasp.
“Good,” Troy said. “Now let’s get out of here.”
“We can’t,” the girl replied, “Until we get one of Williams’ cubes.”
“But that’s going to take too long. They haven’t even invented…”
“Uh, listen you guys. I have no idea of what you’re talking about, and I want my glowing metal object back,” I said.
“YOU glowing metal object? It’s our…”
“Troy,” the girl interrupted. “We have to leave NOW! We’ll take a mecillizer to the jetway, and fly to Brazil.”
With that, she took his hand and led him to the door. She then turned to me and said,
“Well, are you coming?”
“But my clothes…” I answered.
“Here, put these on.” She threw me a tiny pair of blue jeans.
“But they’re way too small,” I told her, examining the microscopic Levi’s.
“Just trust me. One size fits all.”
How could you not trust such a doll with a face like that?
No sooner had I slipped my baby toe in the pants when they stretched large enough for me to put my whole foot in, along with my other foot, both legs,…..before I knew it, I was wearing a perfect fit.
“Tell me one thing,’ Kris said. “Where’s the nearest mecillizer? Oh, shoot…have you ever heard of a mecillizer?”
“They haven’t invented it, then. Uh…take me to the bus depot. We can get to the jetway from there.”
So, that night, via the fire escape, the three of us left for the jetway, or airport, (in archaic terms) So as not to worry my parents, I left them a quick note:
Dear Mom & Dad,
I’m off on a journey I know nothing about with two crazy teenagers claiming to be from the future. I don’t know when I’ll be back, but I’ll keep writing.
Nothing like a soothing note to let them know that I cared.
The Willow Valley Bus Depot was on the other side of town, so we took the only bus going there. (It was the only bus Willow Valley owned) I figured that would give the two strangers some time to explain a few things.
I paid the fare for all of us, and grabbed a seat near the back. Kris sat on my left, Troy was to the right.
“You guys have some heavy duty explaining to do,” I told them.
“Answer me one question first,” Troy said. “How do you know about the pod?”
“The canister?” I asked. “With great difficulty.
“You see, I was in an old memorial building two days ago, and while I was searching for some records for a school project, I stumbled upon a diary.
The diary talked about some weird things the canister did, like its glowing ability, its reaction to heat, water, etc. That night I found a map written in invisible ink that lead to the canister, so I pushed some panel and the thing falls on my head. That’s how I ended up in the hospital.”
Troy looked at Kris.
“It must have been the diary of Pierre LeBlanc, the guy that Sneizer said would help us! The pod was set to land in his backyard. That’s when he was supposed to find it and activate it with a remote control–a channel changer!”
“Uh… I think you’re forgetting one thing,” I interrupted.
“What’s that?” He inquired.
“T.V. controllers hadn’t been invented by 1879.”
“Well how did they change channels, Mr. Smarty Pants?’
“T.V.’s weren’t invented by 1879, dummy.”
Embarassed, he slid back down into his seat.
“Sneizer really screwed up there,” He grumbled.
“I’ve told my story,” I said. “Now you tell yours.”
“You see, we’re from the future. There, separate countries are united, bigotry and racism are not accepted, there is no pollution and peace reigns supreme. There, Earth is called Terridia, from the French word Terre. It’s a beautiful place.”
Her voice trailed off into the distance.
“We joined the Terridian League of Discovery,” Troy continued. “And we were chosen to be part of a project involving time travel. Professor Sneizer, a good friend of ours, invented the first device ever with the ability to transport an animate being to any period in time.
“The pod, or canister, was named Zark, for reasons unknown, and we were placed inside it and sent back in time to January 18, 1979.”
I shuddered. Kris began speaking again.
“The whole key to time travel are these little squares, like sugar cubes, invented by an Anquinnian named Jack Williams. They’re easy to make, but there are very few in existence, and some of their ingredients can only be found on Anquin. But we don’t have enough time to get one.”
No, I did not know what an Anquinnian was.
“We were sent here on a mission,” she went on, “To prevent Marcos Quilleros from becoming the leader of the Brazilian Empire. It all happens in one week.”
“Here’s the whole story in a nutshell.
“Queedo Salice, before retiring from the highest position in Brazil, abducts African-born Patos Quilleros when he’s a baby to raise him to be the kind of leader Salice was–a tyrant. Patos comes into power, Patos’ country finds out what was going down with the abductions. They launch a full-scale attack on Brazil. Patos retorts with his army, and ultimately begins World War III.
Nuclear and germ warfare were involved, causing horrible mutations and terrible diseases.”
Troy spoke up.
“In short, they nuked the world. There were about 1600 survivors. Our ancestors, Kris and mine, were in suspended animation at the time. Nothing would have been able to penetrate their chambers. When the suspension process ended, they, along with the help of the Anquinnians, built a new world.
“In the year 3023, there are very few people populating Terridia. We’re almost in extinction. Troy and I are heading for Brazil, and if we fail our mission, it seems that Earth is doomed.”
Terridia, Salice, mecillizers, jetways, suspended animation– I didn’t know what these people were talking about.
Heck, I was still trying to figure out what an Anquinnian was.
The bus wheezed to a stop
“Well,” I said stretching. “This is the place. Listen, good luck on your mission, you two.”
“Sorry,” Troy said, “But you’re coming with us. Special orders from Sneizer.”
I stopped in mid-yawn.
“What?! I’m not going to Brazil.”
Kris softly touched her hand to mind.
“Please…” She said, with a lost look in her eyes.
“Well…who am I to go against special orders?”
We all got off the bus.
Now, incidentally, the First Willow Valley Precinct was practically inside the bus depot. That explains why as soon as I got off the bus, I saw Father Libson with a cop pointing at me and yelling,
“There he is, officer. That’s the one! Destroyed the church and confessed to it, he did. Sets fire to houses and stores, he does. That’s the one!”
Another cop snuck up behind me and snapped a pair of handcuffs on my wrists.
“You’re under arrest for vandalism and destruction of private property,” He said.
I turned to Kris and Troy.
“I guess this means I’m not coming.”
Present-Day Ryan’s Post-Analysis
Hoo boy! This was something special. When i read through it again after finding in the suitcase, i was surprised by a few things. First, that they published it even though it ended on a cliffhanger, and second, that my writing was equal parts decent and awful.
It’s clearly cobbled together from different movies i’d seen, most obviously the Back to the Future trilogy. Willow Valley sounds suspiciously like Hill Valley. The amazing expanding jeans mimic the auto-lacing shoes scene from BTTF II, and the whole idea of needing an energy source to power the time travel device that isn’t available that far back in time is ripped straight from BTTF III. The silly bit with the hospital bed is straight from The Naked Gun. Smashing the floor tiles of the church is cribbed from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It also has a faint Terminator 2 smell, even though i wrote it a year before that movie came out (but i may have read a plot synopsis of it).
So, so many things make no sense. If the canister is “absolutely weightless,” how can it knock the kid unconscious when it falls on his head? Why does the journal author have to call in a friend from Boston to interpret the “hyrogliphics,” but it takes a 12-year-old to realize they’re French? The French language doesn’t use any special symbols for numbers… even if you didn’t realize it was French, you’d still be able to interpret “3023.” Why are the people at the hospital so confused by Mark muttering about a box, when they’re holding the box that hit him on the head?? Why send two twelve year olds back in time to save the future? Why didn’t i refer to any specific country in Africa either time i mentioned the place? What is an “old memorial building”? (i think i meant “civil records office.”) Why on Earth would a Brazilian dictator kidnap a potential successor from Africa? What’s with all those goofy surnames? The bit about distracting the priest is outrageously dumb. i didn’t quite know what the word “legacy” meant, but i knew it had something to do with time, so the title “the legacy of time” sounded really cool to me. A few years later, some video game developers thought the same.
Through all of it, i couldn’t help thinking how much better my writing would have been if the internet had been a thing.
This version of The Legacy of Time was a re-write. i wrote the first (also unfinished) version in sixth grade, by hand and with a ball-point pen, on lined foolscap. An extra character popped out of the canister in that version, a kid who didn’t speak and wore a motorcycle helmet all the time. The Big Reveal is that the kid in the motorcycle helmet is our hero, from the future! In that version, i remember that the kids actually make it to Brazil somehow, where they encounter some drug dealers in the jungle (Crocodile Dundee II) and … i dunno. Foil them? i just remember the girl character saying the line “You’ll NEVER deal DRUGS again!!” and my mom thought that was just peachy. She hated the line where one kid rattles off a list of pejoratives describing another kid, among them “nose-picking.” She demanded i remove that, because nobody would like my story if i kept it in. The foolscap pages disappeared, as i was a very disorganized kid.
i also remember that i felt like i was under extreme pressure to write a novel, because there was a Canadian kid named Gordon Korman who published his first book at 13. i had a shot at beating him by a year! My school librarian said she thought i was a better writer than Korman, but that i had a problem finishing things. A fair assessment.
Anyway, some tender memories from my earliest attempts at writing long-form stories. Thanks, suitcase!