If You’re Gone

By Stephen McMurtrey

“So, tell me your story,” says Mr. Erving, the school principal, leaning back in his creaking leather chair.

“You won’t believe me,” I say, hardly believing it myself. 

“Try me.”

“I’m a time traveler. I’ve been stuck in a bunch of times and places. I’ve been in the Battle of Normandy, saw JFK get shot, had dinner with Abe Lincoln before he became president. Name it, and I’ve probably been there, or will be.” 

I can’t really blame him for not believing me.

“Okay. So. . . Mr. Drake. . . Where and when are you from?” 

“Born May 12th, 2004, in Santé Fe. Don’t bother looking up my family. It’s ‘95, so my mom is somewhere in Colorado, and my dad’s about three doors down, that way,” I say pointing to the north wall.

He doesn’t flinch. Usually when I tell people this, I get a weird gasp from them. 

“Are you talking about Ben? The boy who you were defending earlier?”

“Yeah, that’s my old man. I would show you on my phone,” I say pulling out my smartphone and laying it on his desk. He examines it. “But it died a long time ago. I got bored during the caveman days, so I played my game until it died. Kind of dumb, but I thought I’d be back home by now.”

Mr. Erving stands up, walks over to his filing cabinet, and unlocks it.

“I’ve been waiting a long time for you to show up. I figured eventually you’d make it here, but you know how stories work. You’re a legend in my family. Wasn’t sure if I really believed it, but here you are.”

He pulls out a lockbox, putting it on his desk. He motions to it, and I can’t help but wonder what kind of things he has on me. It’s filled with pictures, newspaper clippings, and medals. I pull out a picture of me standing next to my unit in Vietnam, in front of an old church. “That’s you, on the right. Wow, you haven’t aged,” he says looking at me.

“That was a few months ago,” I say, pulling out a newspaper clipping. Mysterious Man Rescues Local Stuck on Railroad Track. Piece by piece, my life from the past year is documented. 

“You’re showing up at random points in my family’s timeline. You seem to be saving us when you do.”

I shrug, not really knowing what to say.

“What happened before you first jumped out of your time?”

“Nothing really. I was just sitting at home, playing games. I got up to get something to eat when my head started spinning. I passed out and woke up in a cave. I tried remembering that same feeling or picturing going home, but nothing seems to work.”

Mr. Erving leans against his desk, thinking.

“Have you tried hypnosis?”

“Huh. No, I haven’t. Do you think it would work?”

“At this point it couldn’t hurt, right?” he says.

“True.”

“I can hypnotize you, so if you agree, let’s try it.”

“Sure. Wait, how do you know hypnosis?”

“As a kid, I heard stories about the family magician and wanted to learn magic. All the tricks I tried fell pretty flat, but hypnosis I was good at. My cousin still can’t help but cluck at the sound of a horn.”

He chuckles, pulling out a pocket watch and gently swinging it in front of me.

“Now follow the watch with your eyes. Keep focusing on it and the sound of my voice. Breathe easy and let yourself become sleepy. Your eyes become heavier. Your eyelids are like weights. Let them drift closed. You’re tired. Now sleep. Good. Where are you?”

“I’m not sure. Lots of tall buildings, looks like a downtown area, trucks and cars parked on the side of the road. There’s a newspaper rack. Date says–” I pause, seeing Mr. Erving walking across the street.

“What’s going on?” Mr. Erving says from his office. 

“It’s you. You’re going toward the building across the street. It seems quiet.” I look around, and it’s as if the whole world stops. Suddenly an explosion incinerates everything around me.

“What do you see?” he asks.

“Um, now I’m back at home playing my game,” I say, trying to calm my nerves and push aside what just happened. “I’m hungry so I get up and walk to the kitchen. My head is spinning. I drop to one knee. My head feels like it might burst.”

“Nothing can hurt you here.”

“I’m hot, sweating. Feel like I’m gonna fall asleep”

“Don’t go to sleep; fight it. Accept the pain.”

“It hurts,” I say shaking my head.

“Control it. Don’t let it control you. You’re leveling up.” 

My eyes burst open, and I see everything–from all places and throughout all time. My brain can’t process it. 

“Focus on specifics,” Mr. Erving says. “March 20, 1995.”

I focus on the date and remember his office. With a burst of blue smoke, I’m there again.

“Welcome back,” he sighs.

“What happened?”

“You vanished. Try it again. Focus on the date you first left.” 

I close my eyes and focus. Again, I open my eyes to another cloud of smoke and I’m in front of my game system. I try again, this time going back to that old church. I teleport back to Mr. Erving’s office. He sits at his desk smiling. 

“So, where to now?” 

“Back home. At least for a little while. It’s been too long,” I say, relieved at the thought of finally seeing my grown-up parents again.

“Good. Remember, listen to your parents, don’t do drugs, and stay in school,” he smiles back.

“As long as you don’t go downtown in a month.” Mr. Erving looks puzzled. “Trust me, stay home, please.” 

He lifts an eyebrow, then nods. 

“And keep an eye on Ben. He’s not enjoying being the principal’s son. Thanks for your help grandpa,” I say with a grin and poof home.

Stephen McMurtrey is a SCBWI member, writer, and the author of a short story compilation book, The Meow Effect, as well as the comics “Something More”, “From the Sky”, and “Fistfull of Sand” featured in Okie Comics. He is also a husband and proud father of two young boys.

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