The Man from the Future
by Stephen Ross
I met a man while I was out walking. It was a pleasant Saturday afternoon at the end of October, and I was walking through the woods near my house, on the pathway that ran along the length of the river. It was a lonely, deserted place; just how I liked things to be.
“Your name is John, isn’t it?” the man inquired, as he approached from the other direction.
I had never seen the man before. He was middle-aged, with thinning, gray hair. I found no familiarity in his face: an ugly, unshaven face. He was dressed in a hunting jacket and seemed determined in his manner, and I would further describe him as excited, eager.
“You dropped out of university at the age of 23?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“Because you were bored.”
I nodded. “I prefer to read comic books.”
We were alone beside the river. Not even the ducks had bothered to come out onto the water that afternoon. The air was still.
“Do I know you?” I asked.
“No,” the man replied. “I am from the future.”
I stared at him.
He said, “I have come back in time to kill you.”
To emphasize his point, he took out a small handgun from his jacket pocket. The weapon was the color of sand and of a design I had not seen before.
My continuing gaze undoubtedly registered as disbelief, and the man sought to explain himself.
“There once used to be a hypothetical question: What if you could go back in time and kill someone bad before they had the chance to do any harm? Would you?”
“I know of the question,” I said.
“In the future, this is no longer hypothetical. It is now possible to travel back into the past, to travel through time.”
“Why do you wish to kill me?” I asked. “I am, as you have correctly observed, a university dropout, a failed chemistry major, a nobody. I am 29 years old, single, and my only pleasure in life is a bit of peace and quiet and a good comic book.”
“Because you are evil,” the man answered. “You will be responsible for the deaths of millions of people. You will stain and soil history with the misery that you bring to this world.”
“How extraordinary,” I replied. “Are you quite sure you have the right university dropout?”
He produced a photograph from his pocket. It was a photograph of me: a grainy print of a snapshot taken at a New Year party in my university days. A group of smiling, horny guys standing about holding red plastic cups. I was the one not smiling. Not holding a cup. Not horny.
The photograph indicated one thing: this hadn’t been a random encounter of an afternoon with an insane man in a hunting jacket. He hadn’t happened upon me by chance. Our meeting had been planned, and whether he had come from the future or not, he had announced his intention to kill me.
“What is your name?” I asked.
“Is that important?”
“I think the tiger has a right to know the name of his hunter.”
He seemed disturbed and made uncomfortable by this question. The eager man was now a rather sheepish man.
“I haven’t heard of that name before,” I said. “How do you spell it?”
“Out of curiosity, what year are you from?”
I took out my gun and fired a bullet through Rodryd’s head. He dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes.
I kicked his body down the small incline of the grassy bank into the river, and I kicked his gun in after him. I watched him sail away in the current like a clump of driftwood.
“Bon voyage,” I called to his carcass.
By the time I had returned home and had sat down to dinner with my cat, Rodryd would have sailed out into the sea; the mouth of the river was less than a mile from where we had met.
I had decided not to register Rodryd’s death with the ministry. It was time-consuming and doing so was frankly becoming annoying. The sharks out in the bay could take care of the paperwork.
I swallowed another immunity pill and washed it down with a mouthful of pinot noir. I ate a delicious meal of soba noodles with miso-glazed tofu. Yes, I am a vegetarian; happily so for fifteen years.
My cat preferred pizza.
Yes, they invented time travel, somewhere in the future, I’m not entirely sure when. And the first thing they did with the technology was to travel back into the past and start murdering bad people long before they could commit any of their evil. Hitler, Stalin, Jack the Ripper, you name him or her. Every despot, crackpot, serial killer, or political leader who ever did anything notably immoral or untoward was promptly assassinated.
The sport became so incredibly popular, or will become so incredibly popular (I could never get my head around the terminology) that every man, woman, and child who wanted to play Big Game Hunter ™ could buy a gun, and for the price of about seven weeks’ salary, go on safari.
Supply and demand is one of the fundamental laws of humanity so, naturally, when they started running out of legitimate targets, they “opened up the range” and almost anybody potentially became a candidate for a hunting expedition: Priests who had been naughty, accountants who had fiddled, humble university dropouts, parking wardens; the pretext for their killing flimsy or nonexistent.
We know all of this because ten years ago, a representative from the International Time Commission, of the year 2252 (apparently the year of the signing of the Time Magna Carta), visited our time period and told us.
The world of the distant future has/will become so confused and messed up with all the erasing of persona non grata and continual rewriting of history, that the whole thing has/will become a complete mess. Even the laws of physics are/will be under threat. Apparently, three times five no longer equals fifteen in the year 2252, and it’s been taking them quite some time to figure out how to correct this.
It was determined by all concerned that these time-travelling trophy hunters could now be considered Legitimate Targets ™ and freely exterminated. Quite rightly.
After dinner, I wrote Rodryd’s name in my journal. He had been the third hunter that week to accost me on an afternoon stroll. Evidently, my name had gotten onto a list. I wish they would leave me alone, I really do. I like to be left alone.
I poured another glass of pinot noir and returned to my armchair and my current comic book: a pictorial reworking of the Jane Eyre story, where Jane has a supernatural sexual relationship with the first Mrs. Rochester, a blow torch, and the ability to hurl men into outer space.
While reading, I had an idea for the recipe of my next batch of Permasleep. The previous batch had successfully shut down my village (every last man, woman, and child), but it could be so much more effective and widespread if the potion could be airborne in its delivery.
I told my cat.
She entwined herself about my feet and purred at the idea.
Story & Photo ©2015 Stephen Ross (all rights reserved)