Sports jerseys. Defunct firearms. Leather notebooks bound by thread and twine. Dilan was a man of memorabilia.
Mountains of gimmicks and curios, littered and stacked and filed with seemingly no order. This was far from the truth, however. Dilan was an organised man. For what he was, he had to be, and he loved all the qualities that came with it; clarity, understanding, peace of mind. His belongings were exactly where he intended them to be, his time protected like a princess in a castle. In another life, he could be a project manager, doctor, or even a CEO of a major conglomerate.
He didn't have the disposition for it, unfortunately.
A natural collector, as he liked to describe himself. His most prized possession had to be his bookshelf, a longstanding work of mahogany that was built more for a mansion than this remote, waxed-log cabin that siphoned power from a nearby town. The idea of this shelf was to depict various eras of the human civilisation. So far, from the bottom to the top:
- Unprocessed minerals and ores, encasements of mosquitos in amber, a stone plate depicting a horse-like creature, a plastic figurine of a Neanderthal dancing by a bonfire.
- Miniature models of notable tourist sites: Great Pyramids of Giza, Roman Pantheon, Angkor Wat, Taj Mahal, a chipped Moai head and a portion of the Great Wall of China.
- A broken sewing machine, a tungsten lightbulb, a copy of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, and the earliest model of the Apple Macintosh.
Dust swirled in the top drawer, asking to be filled with utmost politeness. Dilan promised to get to it someday. He wondered when he should start, and whether it would be within the lifetime of this holiday home.
The waft of fresh sourdough filled the halls. Dilan checked his watch, a Rolex Oyster Perpetual from 1926, a gift from his late father. Despite its age, it still powered on like a well-oiled machine. He took excellent care of it.
Okay, maybe that was his most prized possession.
He triple-checked his calendars, to which he had five of them, and got to work on his hard-practiced bread. Sourdough, to the surprise of some, actually originated from Egypt. Dilan had learnt this particular recipe from an Egyptian local on his travels, a deeply attractive but old-fashioned lady with azure eyeshadow and a snake-like gaze. He wanted to fall in love, but couldn't. She was a married woman and he, a rogue and nameless tourist. The consequences of leaving a mark was disastrous.
Alas, he settled for experience, knowledge, and memories.
Whenever Dilan ran short on cash, he drove over to a university of his choosing to teach a few courses. He didn't seem like it, but he was a genius, through and through. His affliction for impractical, detective-like coats, interwoven scarves with southeast Asian batik designs, soldiers boots that edged a bit too close to a fascist uniform, and naturally, rose gold Google Glass to round out his Anthropocene of a fashion getup. He had a bit of the mad scientist in him. A modern renaissance man, jack of all trades and master of none, but still better learnt and well-read than many of his peers in academia, even in their own areas of expertise.
Above all, he was careful, meticulous, exceedingly well-planned. Dilan treated his schedule with divine respect. He followed his planner, as listed in his iPhone X, Longines pocket watch, and Leuchttrum1917 planner, to a tee. Never late, never early.
And absolutely never at the same place twice.
He had his close calls, however. Situations which he vowed to never repeat again, no matter how much he longed the companionship and familiarity of being in one place for an extended period of time.
Tercentenary Theatre. Harvard University. Class of 1982. Clad in a puffy parka and an unwieldy umbrella, Dilan watched his class of academicians dance, spin, and cheer. Mortarboards scattered in the air like autumn leaves. His heart was a pot of pumpkin soup - warm and full and satisfied. He wanted to stay just a little longer, perhaps for a group dinner with a few of his particularly favourite students, before he hung his coat and donned another.
"Oh, hello there."
Stout and round. The granny was a whole head shorter than Dilan, with each crater and crease so intimately placed on her face. Eyes thin. Forehead broad. Frizzly grey wires for hair, like circuitry on an old spaceship.
Like a moon, Dilan thought.
"Are you a student?"
"I'm a professor, actually."
She moved and smiled and swayed in slow motion, as if suspended in low gravity.
"I used to be a student here. Many years ago."
"Is that so?"
"Yes, and I don't mean to toot my own horn, but I was the first in my family to enter Harvard. I didn't think I would ever make it." she inhaled deeply, seemingly reminiscing of old hardships and victories. "To see my first grandson wear the same gown, over fifty years later... it is an amazing feeling. Maybe you'll experience the same, some day."
Dilan rubbed the back of his head. "I don't think I'll be marrying anytime soon, but that's positively lovely. Kudos to your grandson and you too, Miss..."
She told him her name. His heart stopped.
"Truth be told, you look a lot like someone I knew many years ago. I might not look like it now but I was actually quite pretty, if not a little risqué, in my youth."
Dilan took a step back. "I-Is that so?" His head was swimming, suddenly full of daze.
"Simpler times! When I still had perky breasts and a straight back." she exclaimed, "Be grateful for your youth, dear. You'll never know when it catches up to you."
The marrow in his bones liquified. Self-contained mania slithered out of his pores like snakes in a booby trap. Rubber legs, wobbly and weak and heavy. He knew he had to-
"I have to go."
He brisk-walked. For someone who had all the time in the world, his stride was swift and impatient. He was conscious of everything. Sensitive to any subtle shift of the atmosphere. Leaves crumpling at his feet. Crooked branches cutting away a light mistral. The imposing quietus of Harvard as he stepped further and further away from the graduating cohort, from the lingering gaze of a woman he used to know. Breath, partial and heavy. Smoke, even though it wasn't all that cold. This was not the smoke of temperature. They were chips of his existence, flaking away like dewdrops off a tree. He would not be found out, he refused it, rejected it with his all his will.
A school bell, one of those vintage models from the 80s, snapped Dilan out of his uncomfortable reverie. He did not remember ever owning one, but there it sat, at the epicentre of the cabin. He remembered it being a cuckoo clock and admittingly, it was getting quite dated.
He checked his numerous calendars and planners and alas, it seemed his booking was coming to a close.
He sighed, wishing he had at least a bit more time in his infrequently-touched adobe, the only place which he could actually refer to as home. Then again, he felt that about every place he went to, from the hypermodern research institutes in Dubai to the humble, sand-walled districts of the Mayans. Despite it all, this quirky little cabin, situated in a teeny tiny corner of Fitzroy Crossing, Western Australia, 1976; remains the only place where Dilan could reliably go back to, as long as he never broke his schedule.
As promised, he packed up his belongings and made his way out from the west exit, blinking away as if he was never there.
Dilan entered from the east entrance. Shirtless and sweaty, dressed in nothing more than a bone-tooth necklace and a mammoth-print loincloth. He double-checked his five calendars. Yes, he knew how to read.
The aroma of sourdough was a beautiful assault. After nearly three weeks of eating exclusively fruits and berries and animals killed by spearpoint, he craved desperately for something that felt like civilisation. He devoured the sourdough like a barbarian.
This Dilan did not know what kind of bread it was. He had not yet learnt the recipe from the baker girl at Egypt's northern coast at 300 B.C.. He had not yet taught applied physics at Harvard in 1982, nor had he had an affair with a particularly gorgeous and enticing junior in 1932. He had however been a CEO, in the capitalistic dystopia/utopia of 2083, where corporations had not only solved climate change, but commodified it into a subscription that city councils had to pay to avoid. Running away from that present was his first foray in time.
Regardless, he was grateful for the gift left by future Dilan (or past, depending on how you look at it). He sank into his sofa, deciding to watch a few minutes of television before resuming his adventure - at some point in space, at some point in time.
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Like all of your stories, I found myself deep in the bottom of the well, completely submerged in your words. Congrats on the short-list for this. You are racking up the wins and it is so well-deserved!
Who's awesome? You're awesome! :D Just wanted to leave a heartfelt congratulations on shortlisting this week - I am so glad to see your story in lights! :)
Ooh, Sav! This was awesome! Obviously I did not see the twist coming - well done! I liked the thorough descriptions of Dilan, which I got so caught up in that I didn't see the forest for the trees. Two favorite lines: - Dust swirled in the top drawer, asking to be filled with utmost politeness. - His heart was a pot of pumpkin soup - warm and full and satisfied. Beautiful! How do you envision that your character began all of this time ambulation?
Thanks Wendy! When I first drafted the story, I planned my character to be a temporal criminal from the future, escaping some mega corporation of time-police or bounty hunters. I then realised that I'd prefer to go for more of a relaxed exploration of the personal effects of time travel, instead of a shooty-shooty gun-gun plot for the sake of shooty-shooty gun-gun. It's also good opportunity to practice foreshadowing! A plot twist imo has to be well-hidden but guessable to be satisfying, so I hope I hit some of that. As for how or why or si...