Time is a seamstress. She stitches importance into the otherwise mundane. Coffee shops on our favorite street, the bridge where we had our first kiss, and in my case, a book that my grandpa read me on his knee. It was always the calm quiet during a loud thunderstorm or a nice way of passing a summer afternoon. As the years turned into double digits, however, those stories took on a new shape, a new importance.
Shame on me, I let the book fall into disrepair and neglect. The cover was coated with dust, but in my mind’s eye, the stories shone brilliantly like the book was fresh off the shelf. Every stroke of the gold lace was like a time machine, taking me back to the first time my grandpa took me to strange and wonderful worlds. No matter how many times I said the title in my head, the grandeur didn’t fade: Fantastic Voyages of the World.
I had a bad case of Mandela Effect reading the title. For years, I thought it was Voyages of the Fantastic World, but by all rights, this was at most a minor inconvenience. The stories were the same as they had always been. The part I had to be afraid of was whether or not they’d hold up after years of going unscrutinized.
Scared but excited, I brushed off the dust and flipped to an old classic, “Birdmen,” a story of prejudice, freedom and trust!
Evander, Elio, and Rachel had nowhere to go but out. They were enemies of their own home, treated as villains by the real ones who should have been looking in the mirror. Sadly, there was no use disagreeing, and so their options became very simple: death or flight (in every sense of the term). The dynamic trio could go up, forward, or (Heaven forbid) down, but not back.
They had long known this day would come, so they had one place in their minds: Noah’s
Crags, a large ravine separating humans from what might be considered ‘beasts,’ humanoids with defects that cause the normal ones’ blood to boil. Many nights were spent fantasizing about what laid on the other side of that divide, the lookalikes they’d dance in the sky with.
Faster and faster they ran. Their wings were light, but their hearts were heavy. Doubt weighed them down, but they had to find it in themselves to run, jump, and fly! With a heave and a ho, their feet left the ground! Evander, Elio, and Rachel all made the world look small beneath them. Evander was nervous before taking the leap, but as the fields of green came into view, his nerves were swallowed by excitement.
Evander was the first to touch down on the grass across the divide. With wings aloft, he bounded through the radiant green grass, enjoying the fruits of his new life beyond the reach of prodding swords and judging eyes. There was something wrong, however. There was something –someone– missing. Evander was the first one across, but he was also the last one. Alas, the doubt in the hearts of his friends gave their wings weight. In an ending they wrote for themselves, Evander’s brother and sister achieved a higher form of freedom, but at what cost?
I… I think I liked it more when grandpa read it. Whenever he was the one who told the story, they would always make it to the other side without issue. I liked the version where they made it to the other side, where their weightless bodies bounded freely like Spirit at the end of Stallion of the Cimarron.
“Let’s go to a different story,” I said to myself, “one that I highly doubt would have anything that dark in it.”
I remembered my grandfather also would read a story where a grandson traveled across the Gobi Desert to find a fountain of youth. Reading the synopsis now, it sounded like something that could honestly be its own book, but grandpa found a way to make it short, mostly being read in a dramatic voice. The main character, Timothy, didn’t just have to deal with dangerous snakes and scorching heat. He had to deal with DANGEROUS snakes and SCORCHING heat en route to mysterious treasure. Gramps had a bit of a growl to him, trying to add flavor to the story.
Although as I read through, my memory was tested further. There was a scene in a hotel that I had never been read before. Though I will admit, the more I read, the more I wanted to learn about this exotic dancer named “Jezebel,” who cuffed him to his own bed and made off with his rupees in the dead of the night. I was angered reading this, but it made me think the two reconcile by the end, if they become lovers or have a grand confrontation. Either way, I always get a laugh out of Tim saying, “This is why I always pay with debit.” I didn’t remember this joke from my childhood, but I remember my gramps laugh while reading over it. It makes sense he didn’t read it, honestly, cuz it wouldn’t have made any sense to me as a child.
I’ll admit, I was nervous about reading this story before skimming to it. I was afraid that rereading this book would result in me having a corrupted view of a book I enjoyed in my childhood, ESPECIALLY after I read the ending to “Birdmen.” So call me a coward, but I skipped right to the ending where Tim sees his grandfather again, where he holds another person’s literal life in his hand. Ah, the memories this part brought, how my grandpa would always pretend he was ill, and the only way for me to save him was for me to read the last passage.
“Grandpa! I found it! I found the fountain! I’ve crossed rivers and climbed mountains barehanded! All for this vial, wherein 20 years of life lie! Drink this panacea whole, and you will be cured of all your ailments!” Grandpa had to help me at a couple points when I was younger, especially with the word ‘panacea.’ I’d end up saying penis each time and pretending I didn’t know what I was doing (I did). In a strange twist, what I thought was one of my funniest things I had come up with became one of my greatest regrets. Funny how things change as you get older. I just hope there weren’t too many parts of my childhood that I’d regret remembering.
Closing the cover on an old chapter of my life (pardon the nauseatingly cliche metaphor), I shut the book with a tear in my eye. The tear wasn’t because my childhood had been left in ruins, but because there were memories born from this silly little book that couldn’t be rewritten. How grandpa and I had interacted with the book, no matter what new details I found, could never be replaced. I had to let go of a family member, and that took me a year to get over, I didn’t know how I could ever get rid of this book, this silly little time machine that sat neglected in my grandpa’s attic for years. Nobody had to explain what I had to do. That ‘silly little book’ by Gillian Phillips (a name with a lot of straight lines for letters) deserved better. My grandfather’s memory deserved better.