“Folks always called my daddy a liar.”
The voice came low and sad-like from the 12-year-old who sat cross-legged on the concrete steps of the Williamsburg Regional Library on Scotland Street.
Joshua Fry glanced up from the history book he was reading. His friend, Thomas Paine, could see the hurt in the young boy’s eyes.
“Nope, he isn’t, but that don’t stop some people from saying he was wrong about our family history. My ancestor was a hero before George Washington.”
“Washington, the Father of Our Country, helped build a nation—our nation.”
“Not entirely,” Joshua said. “Not a lot of people know that Washington lost his first battle with the British and had to surrender the fort he’d built—Fort Necessity.”
“I didn’t know that. I’m not into history, my thing is science.”
“Is that what you’re reading about?”
“Yes. This is a book on quantum physics. It talks about time travel, black holes and white holes.”
“What’s a white hole?”
“Basically, it’s the other end of a black hole. A black hole sucks everything in, but a white hole spits out matter and energy. This book talks about what’s called the Parallel Dimension theory and the PBS report on how to move forward or backward in time.”
“I wish I could go back in time and save my ancestor.”
“Who was that?”
“My namesake, Joshua Fry. He would have been the Father of Our Country, but he fell off his horse and died, so George Washington became our military leader.”
“Well, didn’t Washington do a great job?”
“Yeah, but when he lost his first battle, it caused the French and Indian War. If Joshua Fry hadn’t died, we’d have won our independence a lot sooner. It’s too bad you don’t know how to build a time machine so I could go back and save him.”
“Who says I don’t know how to build a time machine?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Tom. I didn’t mean you couldn’t build one. Heck, you’re the smartest kid in school. If anyone could build a time machine it’d be you.”
Tom lifted his head and smiled broadly. “I have, you know.”
“I’ve built a time machine. Want to see it?”
The boys hopped on their bicycles and left for Cherry Lane where Tom lived.
“It’s behind the garage,” Tom whispered as he and Joshua pulled into the driveway.
Joshua followed his friend inside a garden shed.
“I don’t see any time machine.”
“Look here,” Tom said as he lifted a canvas tarpaulin from a wooden bin built at the far end of a make-shift table. Under the tarp, a silver metal pot sat looking like an old pressure cooker. Several wires protruded from it leading to a gray metal box underneath. An array of lights and switches decorated the front and as Tom flipped a switch, the lights blinked, and an electric motor began to hum.
“Does it work?”
“I don’t know. I mean, I haven’t tested it, yet. Wanna try it out?”
“Uh—no. I’m not that adventurous.”
“Well, you’re the one who wanted to change your family history.”
“If I thought it would work, I’d do it.”
“Stand back and hold my soda. I’m going to send Mr. Majestic through time.”
“You mom’s cat? She’ll kill you. She’ll at least give you a good whipping.”
“Ha-ha! Hold onto your whiskers, Mr. Majestic. Here you go.”
Tom placed the cat near the silver drum and stood back. The hum from the motor grew louder and colored lights blinked on and off much faster. A cloud formed over Mr. Majestic and his fur stood on end. Just as Mr. Majestic let out his first loud hiss, the cloud descended around his body and—Poof! He was gone.
“Wow” Joshua shouted. “You’re in for it now. You killed your mom’s cat.”
“No way,” Tom said with a wicked grin on his lips. “Watch this.”
He fiddled with the machine once more, turning dials and then flipped the switch. Immediately, the machine hummed louder and just as before, a dense cloud formed over the area where Mr. Majestic had been standing. This time a high-pitched whistle sounded, and the colored lights flashed off and on in rapid succession. Then, all at once, a loud clang came from inside the remanufactured pressure cooker and—Poof! There he was. Mr. Majestic appeared again without any obvious harm to him, other than a worried look on his face and a soft meow. The cat jumped off the table and scampered out of the shed.
` “That’s something, all right,” Joshua admitted. “But how does that prove he went back in time?”
“Here,” Tom said as he opened a page in one of the library books he’d checked out. “See this picture?”
The picture was a reproduction of The Virginia Gazette, the first newspaper in Virginia, dated 1736. A woodblock print showed people staring at a black kitten which resembled Mr. Majestic. The headline read, Black cat appears suddenly, then vanishes within minutes— witchcraft suspected.
“I knew it would work,” Tom said, “when I saw this image in the book. Look at the silver collar around the kitten’s neck.”
Sure enough, the collar in the photo matched the one Joshua had seen on Mr. Majestic.
“You can do it. You can go back in time and save your ancestor from falling off his horse.”
“Uh—I don’t know.”
Joshua Fry—the Revolutionary figure, not the younger Joshua—stood across from the desk of Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie, who had summoned him to appear.
“I’m appointing you as one of the commissioners for the Treaty of Logstown,” Dinwiddle said. The year was 1752. The treaty would strengthen the relationship between the English colonists and the American Indians. “I’m sure you realize the importance of this mission."
“Indeed, I do, sir. But couldn’t you send Washington on this mission?”
“George Washington? Why in the world would I send my second-best man when I have you? Besides, Washington is a bit of a stuffed shirt, so I’m told.”
“Washington’s a good man, sir.”
“Well, maybe so, but you have greater knowledge of the Virginia frontier and I’m counting on you to see this mission is a success.”
“I shall do my best, sir.”
“Of course, you will.”
Fry excused himself and made ready for a long and arduous trip to the area on the Ohio River through dense forests and rugged terrain.
“All right. I’ll do it,” young Joshua said to his friend.
Tom positioned Joshua near where Mr. Majestic had stood and paused long enough to shake hands before throwing a switch on the time machine.
“I’m going with you, but I have to stay by the machine so I can throw the switch to bring us back home. You’ll have to rescue your ancestor all by yourself.”
Joshua nodded and, once again, a cloud formed over the boys’ heads then descended around their bodies. Poof! They both disappeared just as Mr. Majestic had done moments before.
At first, Joshua appeared confused. His body tingled. He saw that he was in a deep forest with no particular landmark to guide him—no trail to follow and no sign saying, “Indian village, this way.”
He closed his eyes and listened to the sounds around him—birds chirping, wind blowing softly, and he smelled the sweet perfume of wildflowers mixed with the heady scent of Virginia pine trees. He heard the rippling sound of river waters breaking upon stone boulders and the occasional splash of rainbow trout as they broke free and soared through the air and dove back into the river.
And then he heard human voices. English speaking men, all right. He listened intently as he followed their sound and, as he drew closer to the group, he instantly recognized the elder Joshua Fry standing beside his horse. Young Joshua had seen sketches of the man many times in library books and a painting which hung in his father’s den.
As the elder Fry stepped his foot inside the stirrup of his saddle, younger Joshua broke free from the edge of the clearing and ran as fast as he could towards the man. He reached Fry’s horse just as his ancestor put his full weight onto the stirrup.
The leather strap holding Fry’s stirrup broke under the weight of his body and the man tumbled from the saddle—right into young Joshua’s arms. They went down together, bruised, scratched, landing with dual grunts but, otherwise, safe.
“What? Boy, are you all right?” Fry asked.
Joshua righted himself, being pulled upright by his ancestor.
“Yes—yes, sir,” he spoke.
“Who are you and where did you come from? And why are you dressed so strangely?”
Just as Joshua was about to answer, he felt a tingle run through his body and a small cloud formed over his head. The elder Fry stood back, awed by the apparition which descended all about Joshua’s body and then—Poof!
“I’ve got you,” Tom shouted as he wrapped both his arms around Joshua to catch him as he fell.
“Aieee!” Joshua screamed and shook all over.
“It’s okay. We’re back in Mom’s garden shed, and all in one piece. How do you feel?”
“Like I just fell off a cliff and…and…I thought I would die.”
Tom laughed. He nudged Joshua over to a chair and sat back laughing some more.
“That was him, your ancestor?” Tom asked.
“Y—yeah, we found him.” Joshua paused a moment then looked at his friend. A huge grin spread across his face as his eyes opened wider and took on a Christmas morning look to them. “We did it. We stopped his fall from his horse. He’s alive!”
“No, you did it. I just got us back home.”
Joshua didn’t reply. He grabbed the history book he’d been reading and turned to the page that said his ancestor had died. Instead of reporting those facts, he read where the elder Fry had met with the Indian chiefs in the area, had signed a treaty with them and returned to the fort to report the mission complete to his superior.
The remaining listing told how Dinwiddle had appointed Fry to the position of Colonel in the Revolutionary Army and later promoted him to General over all the troops. George Washington, although still losing Fort Necessity to the French, became Fry’s adjutant and went on to lead the colonies to victory over the British after Fry, serving less than two years after his success at Logstown, fell off his horse and broke a leg.
The fracture led to a case of gangrene, which required an amputation of the limb, which lead to Fry resigning his commission and living out the rest of his life as a surveyor in Virginia, never fighting in the French and Indian War, which had been postponed by only a few months, but being on hand to congratulate his friend and successor General Washington after General Charles Cornwallis surrendered to him at Yorktown.
“Joshua Fry was a hero,” Joshua said. “The history book says so. Now, nobody will ever call my daddy a liar, again. Besides, he was sort of famous for something else.”
“Well, if he had died falling off his horse, he would never have fathered a son, who would never father a son, who would never…”
“Is this going somewhere?” Tom asked, showing boredom in his expression.
“Yeah. Well, I don’t recall how many begats and all of that, but it was a Joshua Fry down the line who gave us this.”
Joshua reached inside his pocket, produced a Cadbury chocolate and handed it to Tom.”
“Oh, wow, my favorite candy. But, how…?”
“The Fry family was a world leader in chocolates; so was the Cadbury family. In 1919 the two businesses merged, and we wouldn’t have Cadbury chocolates today if I hadn’t saved Joshua Fry’s life.”
“You did good, Joshua Fry. Gimme another Cadbury.”