Authors: Stephen Baxter
Illustrated by Les Edwards
To my wife Sandra,
and the memory of H.G.
Here the account ends; no further Appendix was found.
The attached account was given to me by the owner of a small second-hand bookshop, situated just off the Charing Cross Road in London. He told me it had turned up as a manuscript in an unlabelled box, in a collection of books which had been bequeathed to him after the death of a friend; the bookseller passed the manuscript on to me as a curiosity – ‘You might make something of it’ – knowing of my interest in the speculative fiction of the nineteenth century.
The manuscript itself was typewritten on commonplace paper, but a pencil note attested that it had been transcribed from an original ‘written by hand on a paper of such age that it has crumbled beyond repair’. That original, if it ever existed, is lost. There is no note as to the manuscript’s author, or origin.
I have restricted my editing to a superficial polishing, meaning only to eliminate some of the errors and duplications of a manuscript which was evidently written in haste.
What are we to make of it? In the Time Traveller’s words, we must ‘take it as a lie – or a prophecy … Consider I have been speculating upon the destinies of our race until I have hatched this fiction …’ Without further evidence, we must regard this work as a fantasy – or as an elaborate hoax – but if there is even a grain of truth in the account contained in these pages, then a startling new light is shed, not merely on one of our most famous works of fiction (if fiction it was!), but also on the nature of our universe and our place in it.
I present the account here without further comment.
n the Friday morning after my return from futurity, I awoke long after dawn, from the deepest of dreamless sleeps.
I got out of bed and threw back the curtains. The sun was making his usual sluggish progress up the sky, and I remembered how, from the accelerated perspective of a Time Traveller, the sun had fair hopped across heaven! But now, it seemed, I was embedded in oozing time once more, like an insect in seeping amber.
The noises of a Richmond morning gathered outside my window: the hoof-steps of horses, the rattle of wheels on cobbles, the banging of doors. A steam tram, spewing out smoke and sparks, made its clumsy way along the Petersham Road, and the gull-like cries of hawkers came floating on the air. I found my thoughts drifting away from my gaudy adventures in time and back to a mundane plane: I considered the contents of the latest
Pall Mall Gazette
, and stock movements, and I entertained an anticipation that the morning’s post might bring the latest
American Journal of Science
, which would contain some speculations of mine on the findings of A. Michelson and E. Morley on certain peculiarities of light, reported in that journal four years earlier, in 1887 …
And so on! The details of the everyday crowded into my head, and by contrast the memory of my
adventure in futurity came to seem fantastical – even absurd. As I thought it over now, it seemed to me that the whole experience had had something of a hallucinatory, almost dreamlike quality: there had been that sense of precipitate falling, the haziness of everything about time travel, and at last my plunge into the nightmarish world of
802,701. The grip of the ordinary on our imaginations is remarkable. Standing there in my pyjamas, something of the uncertainty which had, in the end, assailed me last night returned, and I started to doubt the very existence of the Time Machine itself! – despite my very clear memories of the two years of my life I had expended in the nuts and bolts of its construction, not to mention the two decades previous, during which I had teased out the theory of time travel from anomalies I had observed during my studies of physical optics.
I thought back over my conversation with my companions over dinner the evening before – somehow those few hours were far more vivid, now, than all the days I had spent in that world of futurity – and I remembered their mix of responses to my account: there had been a general enjoyment of a good tale, accompanied by dashes of sympathy or near-derision depending on the temperaments of individuals – and, I recalled, a near-universal scepticism. Only one good friend, who I shall call the Writer in these pages, had seemed to listen to my ramblings with any degree of sympathy and trust.
Standing by the window, I stretched – and my doubts about my memories took a jolt! The ache of my back was real enough, acute and urgent, as were the burning sensations in the muscles of my legs and arms: protests from the muscles of a no-longer-young man forced, against his practice, to exert himself. ‘Well, then,’ I argued with myself, ‘if your trip into
the future was truly a dream – all of it, including that bleak night when you fought the Morlocks in the forest – where have these aches and pains come from? Have you been capering around your garden, perhaps, in a moonstruck delirium?’
And there, dumped without ceremony in a corner of my room, I saw a small heap of clothes: they were the garments I had worn to their ruin during my flight to the future, and which now were fit only to be destroyed. I could see grass stains and scorch marks; the pockets were torn, and I remembered how Weena had used those flaps of cloth as impromptu vases, to load up with the etiolated flowers of the future. My shoes were missing, of course – I felt an odd twinge of regret for the comfortable old house-shoes which I had borne unthinking into a hostile future, before abandoning them to an unimaginable fate! – and there, on the carpet, were the filthy, bloodstained remnants of my socks.
Somehow it was those socks – those comical, battered old socks! – whose rude existence convinced me, above anything else, that I was not yet insane: that my flight into the future had not been entirely a dream.