Thomas squirmed and giggled as he snuggled under his duvet. Flicking his blonde hair out of his face with his forefinger, he watched me through blue eyes. I was busily clearing up the school clothes he’d left in a heap on the floor. Again.
“Story?” He asked hopefully. I continued to fold his clothes. As I hadn’t responded straight away, he followed up with, “Come on dad, you always read to me.”
“Well,” I replied, “we finished Lord of the Rings last night and we’ve nothing new to read. We’ll need to go to the library at the weekend and pick up some new books”. Bending over, I picked up the damp towel Thomas had deposited on the floor after his shower. Almost twelve and he can’t put the towel in its place on the radiator, I thought to myself.
“Yeah sounds good, dad. There’s a new Anthony Horowitz book out that I’m interested in.”
I love the fact that he’s such a book worm. Always has been. “Why don’t you try some different authors? Maybe try some of the classics like Jules Verne or Bram Stoker’s Dracula.”
“Hmm, maybe,” he said, not sounding too convinced. “What about a quick story then? You can make one up like you used to do when we went camping.”
“Hmm, let me see,” I replied, buying some thinking time. Pulling the chair over, I sat at the foot of his bed and took a long sip of tea from the mug he’d given me for Father’s Day the previous year.
Thomas settled down in anticipation, pulling the duvet up under his chin.
“Right, I’m going to tell you a true story. Something that happened to me when I was younger. I was perhaps three years older than you are now. It’s a story I’ve never told anyone else - not even your mother. If I tell you, can I trust you to keep it a secret?”
Thomas nodded eagerly, hooked on the idea of learning a secret that only we shared.
“It was the summer of nineteen eighty-three. A hot summer, back when we used to have proper seasons. I’m guessing it was about halfway through the school holidays. You know, right around the time you think six weeks will never end, just as the boredom starts to kick in. Anyway, two friends and I decided to go camping down Duxbury woods for the weekend. You know Duxbury woods, out behind Grandma’s? I’ve taken you dam-building there. Remember? even Grandad rolled his pants up and joined in.”
“Yes, I remember. Dad, they had tents in the olden days?” Thomas joked.
“Yes, cheeky. They weren’t anything fancy though, not like today with sleeping compartments and kitchen areas. Anyway, there was no way we could afford a tent back then, so Simon and Stefan came up with this hair-brained idea of us making hammocks out of old bedsheets and some rope.”
“Oh yeah, a hammock, that sounds cool. We’re so doing a hammock next summer. That’ll make a good video log for my YouTube channel.”
Bloody YouTube, I thought, it has a lot to answer for.
“Anyway, it took most of the morning to get our three hammocks rigged up. We had to figure out which type of knot to use - should have paid more attention in Scouts, I guess. Getting into the hammocks was pretty difficult. You have to distribute your weight just right. Once you’re in, though, its quite comfortable, as long as you don’t roll over. Simon fell out several times. He was covered in bruises. That took some explaining when we got home.”
“By mid-afternoon we’d finished our little camp. It was in a small clearing near a bend in the river. We’d chosen the location because the bend in the river had created a small stone beach to form over the years. It was great fun skimming stones down the river and seeing who could get the most hops out of their stones.
We’d collected enough dry wood for a fire which would keep us warm through the night. Stefan had used some of the bigger boulders from the river to build a stone circle to contain the fire. I’d taken some potatoes and tins of beans which we were going to cook on the fire for tea later that evening.
Before lighting the fire, we’d decided to have a game of hide and seek. Simon was it, so Stefan and I ran off in different directions to hide.”
“Come on dad, this doesn’t sound too interesting!” laughed Thomas, “What’s the secret?. Let me guess, you got lost.”
“Shush or I’ll not finish the story and you can go straight to sleep now.”
Thomas mimed zipping his lips shut, turning, and throwing away an imaginary key. Smart alec.
“I thought I knew the woods pretty well, since I’d played in them for years, yet I found myself in a part of the woods I didn’t recognise. That’s when I stumbled across it. The monolith sat in a small clearing equally spaced between three huge oak trees. The monolith was as dark as the night sky with all the stars extinguished. A deep black with a sheen like wet leather. As I circled it with caution, I noticed that it looked like an inverted pyramid with the pointy narrow bit on the floor. I couldn’t believe it was balancing on this small point. Surely it was defying gravity. Inspecting it closer, it didn’t even seem to be sitting on the ground. It appeared to be hovering.”
“This is more like it,” cooed Thomas.
“After a few minutes, curiosity finally got the better of me and I tentatively reached out to touch the monolith. As my fingers got within a few inches of the inky black surface, the hairs on the back of my hand stood to attention. The air seemed to crackle with static charge and, as my fingers rested on the cool surface, everything stopped. The usual sounds the woods made ceased. The constant bubbling of the river, the cackle of the crows, and the occasional noise of a rodent running through the undergrowth. All stopped. Utter silence.
Well, almost. I became acutely aware of the sound of my heart beating. Lub dub, it called to me. Lub… dub… slowing as my breathing slowed. Lub …. dub. Almost stopped now. I wanted to take my hand off the mysterious stone, but couldn’t. Then I started to get frightened as the noise my heart made changed. Dub …. lub. Starting slowly at first, but gathering pace Dub .. lub, Dub lub, really? Was it going backwards?”
“Awesome! What happened next dad?.” Thomas asked excitedly.
“I’m not exactly sure, son. This went on for a while and then I found myself just stood there, with my arm outstretched, touching nothing. The monolith had vanished. I looked around but couldn’t find it. I thought to myself, have I just daydreamed the whole thing?
I returned to the camp and found Simon and Stefan finishing up stacking the wood for the fire. I was like, ‘guys, you won’t believe what just happened to me!’ They weren’t interested though, they were just annoyed I’d returned with no wood and called me a slacker.
Shortly afterwards, a game of hide and seek was suggested and I was like ‘… we’ve just played that.’ The other two laughed, of course, and said they’d just thought of it. I played along, but I felt very odd. Very surreal.”
“Was it déjà vu?.” Thomas asked.
“No. At first, I passed it off as déjà vu, until what happened next.”
“What was that dad?”
“It was much later; it was starting to go dark and we were trying to get the fire lit. We’d been failing for ten minutes to get it started. Simon had brought some methylated spirits in a glass bottle for the tilly lamp he’d borrowed from his dad. We were going to use the lamp later that night. Stefan had got a small flame going and said ‘let’s pour some of that methylated spirits onto the flame, that’ll help get the fire going.’
So, Simon unscrewed the metal cap and held the glass bottle over the flame. As he poured the flammable liquid on to the flame, the flame shot up the stream and ignited the liquid in the glass bottle. The glass quickly got too hot for Simon to hold and he threw it down, screaming in pain, clutching his burnt fingers. I tried to console him - then Stefan shrieked and we turned to see what the problem was.
Simon had dropped the bottle into some dried grass which had ignited from the burning liquid. It was quickly getting out of control. We had to act fast to stop a major fire breaking out, so we started stamping on the grass to try and put it out. I grabbed the cooking pot we’d brought and ran to the river to fetch some water. As I returned, I saw Stefan stamping out the flames. He looked like a devil doing a jig. Then his trouser pants caught on fire and he went up in flames.”
Thomas just looked at me in shock. “Was he alright?”
“That’s when it happened a second time. Everything slowed and my heart started to beat backwards. Dub .. lub, Dub …. lub. The woods went silent and my vision blurred. Time was rewinding. When it stopped, I saw Simon and Stefan bent over blowing hard on the single flame trying to get it started. Simon reaching for his bottle of methylated spirits. I yelled at him to stop, explaining why that was such a bad idea. He conceded and we gave up on the idea of having a fire, opting to eat the beans cold, straight from the tin.
Even now, Stefan doesn’t know I saved his life that day.”
Thomas asked “Are you seriously trying to tell me you can time travel?”
“Well yes, of course. That monolith, wherever it was from, must have changed my DNA somehow. It wasn’t always easy and it took some practice to control, but now I can pretty much do it at will. However, I can only go backwards and only up to a maximum of twelve minutes.”
“Awe, so you can’t go forward in time?.” Thomas asked dejectedly.
“No. Only backwards. But hey, it’s been pretty useful! It’s saved your life once. A couple of years back while driving through France, a deer ran out in front of our car and hit us causing us to crash. You’d have been badly injured, probably wheelchair-bound, but I rewound time by twelve minutes, pulled the car over in a lay-by, and waited for the deer to pass. Your mum, of course, asked why we’d stopped in the lay-by. I made some excuse up about wanting to eat something, then acted all surprised when the deer went rushing past.”
“Really?. That literally happened?” enquired Thomas.
“Yep. But mostly I use it for mundane stuff like when I’ve not listened to your mother telling me something important. Rewind. ‘Yes darling, of course darling.’”
Thomas smiled, “So go on then dad, prove it. Time travel for me.”
“Already have, son,” I said grinning “This is the second time you’ve heard the tale tonight. The first being twelve minutes ago.”