My father invented a time machine. A working time machine.
Laugh all you want; I know I did when my father told our family about his invention. When I asked to see it work, however, Father let me see it, and, to my complete astonishment, took me back nine hours to that morning. I watched myself–from a discreet hiding place, of course–get out of bed just as I had that morning, and shuffle down the hall to breakfast, where I–my other self?–ate the exact same thing that I remembered eating that morning. It was odd watching myself go through the scenes of the day, but after that experience, you wouldn’t catch me second-guessing my father.
Being the young man that I was, I often caught myself in the middle of daydreams where I was an old knight of the land, or far ahead in the future, in places I had only imagined until now. The things I could do with a time machine, the possibilities, the adventures! My mind ran at a mile a minute, sailing through time on the wings of imagination, only to be grounded at the worst of times, usually by a teacher who was trying to explain a boring concept that couldn’t possibly have been as interesting as my mind’s journeys.
Naturally, then, I was exceptionally disappointed when, having asked Father to take me back in time, the answer I received was a flat-out, no-nonsense `No.’ The machine was not a toy, Father explained patiently, and not something to be treated lightly. It was a gift, and an enormous responsibility, one that must be kept a secret at all times… And so on, and so forth, until I had his speech memorized, because I was always convinced that if I asked just one more time, he’d say yes.
He never did, not even when I came home from school in a horrible huff, with a message for my parents saying that I had been expelled for a week due to my participation in a brawl in the cafeteria. Needless to say, my parents were very upset, but when I begged Father to let me go back in time so that I could prevent my being expelled, he just shook his head sagely, and I could tell he was about to impart some sort of cumbersome wisdom to me. I wasn’t in the mood, but listened nonetheless, having no choice in the matter, while he patiently explained to me that I had to accept the consequences of my actions, because once I had acted, there was no retracting what I had done. Changing time, he said, was too easy a way out.
“Tell me, would you have joined the fight, had you known what would come of it?” I crossed my arms over my chest sulkily and shook my head, and Father nodded, satisfied. “But you did not know, and so made a bad decision. And in making a wrong choice, you must live with the consequences of what you have done. Only through failure, Chris, can we grow. And that is why I cannot allow you to go back.”
I glared after him as he walked away, leaving me with the nagging feeling that he was right and I’d live to admit it someday. Not today, I thought, and headed for the basement, where the machine was hidden carefully in the back room, under lock and key, but I wasn’t worried about that. I was no experienced lock-pick, but I had done it a few times, and was confident I could get to the time machine.
Sure enough, a few tweaks of the lock later, and I was inside Father’s workshop, a self-satisfied smirk on my face and my mind already running away with me. I rubbed my hands together eagerly and crossed the room to where the time machine sat, a dirty mess of screws, bolts, and steel, and yet magnificent at the same time. I knew my father was right in saying that the power to manipulate time must be taken seriously, but I wasn’t about to stand by and let myself be expelled for a fight that I hadn’t even started. Inside of the contraption was a series of dials, switches, and levers, as well as a giant pile of papers with my father’s messy handwriting scrawled across all of them. I didn’t bother to see what he had written, and instead turned to the controls. There were several large screens in front of me, and a keypad of sorts into which the dates were typed, if I remembered correctly.
I was debating where I wanted to go when the sound of footsteps on the stairwell caused panic to rise in my stomach. Cold fear bubbled within my stomach at the thought of what Father would do to me if he found me here, especially right after our talk. I dashed to the main door of the room, locked it, and darted back into the time machine, where I hid underneath a small shelf and thanked God that I was small enough to fit. And then I waited.
I heard Father come into the room and proceed directly to the machine, and within seconds I could see his black Oxfords not two yards from my hideout. I took a deep breath and held it, praying silently that he would just check a few things and then go. At the same time, some part of me was crying out `This is your chance! He’ll go back in time, and you’ll be able to have an adventure!’ I wasn’t sure which part of my conscience I wanted to win the battle, and since all I could do was wait, it didn’t matter.
I must have secretly wanted my adventurous side to win, for I was thoroughly disappointed when, after only a few minutes of tapping on the keypad, Father left the machine, taking a stack of papers with him. I waited nearly five minutes to make sure he was not coming back, and then climbed from my uncomfortable hole in the shelf and left the machine with a resigned sigh.
And then I stopped dead in my tracks, for I was no longer in my basement. All around me were trees, and grass, and through the line of pines ahead I could see rolling hills in the distance. The air smelled of wood smoke and of summer crops, and the sky was a deep, unpolluted blue that was dazzling to look at. Above my head, shafts of light were filtered by the thick branches of a myriad of different trees, and sprawled about the woodland floor in a dance of lights and colours. I stared, amazed by what I was seeing. Where was I?
It took me a moment to realize that the question I should have been asking myself was not where, but when I was. Father had told me that the time machine could not alter the location of the time-traveler, so I knew that, whenever I was, my house would be, or had been, here at some point in time. A pity my house couldn’t have been here now, I thought, for the location was beautiful and peaceful. I would have been content to stand there all day, just staring, but it occurred to me then that my father was here somewhere as well. The battle between common sense, which told me to stay put, and adventure, which told me to explore, then ensued once again.
Adventure won out, and I was secretly glad of it, so I started off toward the forest line, hoping to get a better view of the surrounding country once I was clear of the trees. The walk was calming, and I felt my anger at my father dissipate as I worked my way along, stepping around the many shrubs growing upon the forest floor. I wondered what they all were; some of them, most of them, were not familiar, although a few I recognized. When I reached the edge of the trees, I halted cautiously and then raised my eyes to get a better look. What I saw made me gasp.
Down below, in the green valleys of the hills, was a village, a village growing within the very earth. The sides of the hills had been cut into, and in place of grass and dirt, I saw–were those doors? Yes, they were, I realized with a start, for as I was staring, I saw one of them open, and a man with a head of curly hair stepped out into the air. He was very small, or perhaps just looked small from where I was standing, and wore the simple clothing of a farmer. He carried a spade in one hand and a flowerpot in the other and was smiling cheerfully the plant in the pot. The man knelt down in a small but brightly coloured garden outside of his home, and I saw that his feet were bare.
I forced my eyes away from the man and allowed myself to survey the rest of the village. The landscape was beautiful, playing host to seemingly every sort of tree, shrub, and flower imaginable. Everywhere there was life, and laughter could be heard on the wind even from where I stood overlooking the little town. The tree that caught my eyes, however, was more beautiful than I have words to describe. It was a dancer, frozen in a graceful pose upon the carpet of green that was its stage, arms extended and reaching for the sky. Its bark was silver like the light of the moon, and when the wind moved through its branches, they seemed to shimmer as they reflected the sun’s light. Amidst the long, graceful leaves of the tree bloomed golden flowers, and if the bark shone like the moon, then surely the flowers radiated the light of the sun. I watched the people of the village move up and down the dirt roads, and noticed that whenever one passed the tree, they always paused to glance up at it, and though I was far away from the tree, I could see the reverence and awe with which they gazed.
Sure beyond any doubt that I had nothing to fear from these people, I walked a few paces out onto the knoll and dropped myself down in the grass, content to spend the day watching from my vantage point. Never had I felt such peace as I did in this place, at this moment. School was forgotten, my troubles vanished, and I closed my eyes and felt the breeze and then sun on my face. I wondered if this place, whenever it was, had ever experienced trouble, pain, suffering. To look at it, one would not think so. The people were happy, the land flourished. I thought of my own time, when there always seemed to be war, or trouble. After any war, the times seem peaceful and happy. What had this village seen that had brought about such peace? I wondered, and hoped that it was nothing, and that they had always been this way.
For nearly three hours I watched the ebb and flow of the inhabitants of the small village as they went about their daily business. In a small market in the centre of town, men and women sold everything from pottery to freshly baked bread, herbs to clothing, and everything in between. Children darted through the crowds, shrieking with delight at the excitement of their game, which appeared to me to be distinctly like tag. How old was that game? I wondered, and then it occurred to me that I just might be in the future, and not the past. If this was the future, I mused, then it was not what men of my time expected. Some might even call this a recession, but I rather enjoyed it. I could live like this, I thought, nodding decidedly.
“Lovely, isn’t it?” said a voice from behind me, and I jumped a mile.
I whirled around, but there was no need, for the source of the voice sat down at my side and gazed down at the village. It was my father, and I gulped, certain that I was in for a beating, at least. Not only had I blatantly disobeyed his orders to stay away from the time machine, but I had also put myself in plain sight of the inhabitants of this little village. I winced involuntarily.
To my surprise, Father said nothing of my presence in this time, and instead eyed his papers critically, pulling out a pen to now and then mark something. “They call it Hobbiton, in a land known as the Shire,” he informed me without looking up from his notes. “The people here call themselves Halflings, or Hobbits.” He shook his head, amazed. “A fascinating people, a fascinating place, a fascinating time. Seeing the beauty of this land makes me wish it would never change. How sad it is that it must.”
“Where–when are we?” I asked timidly, interested for the first time in his notes. Glancing down, I saw something about a haven; a grey haven, perhaps? How could a haven be grey? Father needed to learn to write legibly.
“We are thousands of years before our time, Chris,” Father said after a pause. “To be honest, I’m not sure when, although I’d wager we’re at least seven thousand years prior. There’s something a bit wrong with the register on the time machine.” He chuckled at my horrified look. “It won’t affect our ability to get back.”
“Oh, alright,” I said, somewhat disappointed. “It’s so quiet and peaceful. I would have rather liked to stay, to be honest.” I plucked a blade of grass from the green rug at my feet and twirled it in my fingers, embarrassed.
“As would I,” my father said, scribbling something out of his notes. “The Halflings are a friendly and peaceful people, but they too have seen their share of woe.”
“Friendly?” I blurted out. “You mean you’ve talked to them?” This, after he had told me to keep out of sight!
Father nodded, turning to face me. “Yes, I have, several times, and I know what you are thinking, but you know there is no one here to recognize me, to realize that I may be in two places at once. The Halflings think I am a mere traveler and scholar, here to immortalize the history of the land and its peoples, and I supposed that I am. They were rather wary of me at first, but they’ve since warmed up considerably. They are quite informative, one in particular, a gardener called Samwise. He is a wonderful fellow, and has seen more than you or I ever will, I’m sure.” A saddened look crossed Father’s face, and for a moment I was afraid to ask my next question.
“Such as what?”
Setting his papers and pens into the soft grass, Father drew his knees to his chest, giving him the appearance of a young child. It was odd seeing my father that way. He took a deep breath. “War, corruption, disloyalty, death, pain…” He shook his head again, and then, to my surprise, smiled. “Yet he has also seen the opposite: joy, love, friendship beyond what we know in our day. Honour and courage and selflessness. Life itself.”
I stared in awe, for the way my father spoke made this Samwise, this Halfling, sound like a warrior. I shot a glance down into Hobbiton and arched an eyebrow. This did not look like the breeding grounds for warriors to me. What had happened in this place, that had allowed the Halfling my father spoke of to see so much? I turned to him, my gaze questioning, and Father rose to his feet.
“We had best get back, Chris,” he said, motioning for me to follow. Frowning, I hung back reluctantly, sure that I would never see the beauty of the Shire again. After this, I’d be surprised if I wasn’t grounded for life.
“Perhaps you can come with me again sometime, and meet him,” father added, smiling warmly at me. He tucked a pen into his shirt. “You can help me record the tales of this land.”
I turned to him, a hopeful smile crossing my face. “Truly?”
Father nodded. “Truly. What better way to make this place and these people last than by the written word? Now we must go.”
I cast one last glance down into the green valleys of Hobbiton and wondered how much longer it would be here, and then smiled. That was why Father was writing down their history, as he had said. So that it would be here forever in the hearts of those who read what Father had to write about this place. And I would help him do it. I let my eyes take in a final picture of two young Hobbits chasing each other down one of the dusty roads. Their laughter rose upon the wind and met my ears, and I nodded. Smiling to myself, I turned and followed my father back to the time machine.
The return journey was as short and uneventful as the first journey, and within seconds I found myself back in our basement, already missing the scents of the Shire. Father and I left the workroom, carefully locked the door behind us, and trotted upstairs together. I was startled back into my own time by the ringing of the phone. Sighing nostalgically, I picked up the receiver and greeted the caller.
“Hello?” said the voice on the other end. “Is Professor Tolkien in, please?”
“Yes, one moment.” I covered the receiver with one hand and offered the phone to my father. “It’s for you.”
The events in this story concerning Christopher Tolkien are fictitious. I highly doubt he was ever expelled from school, and if he was, I don’t know about it. Thanks for reading.