I had to be sure, so I asked one more time: “This is going to work, right?” Dr. Montague paused the last minute check and stared at me. We made eye contact, but her hazel eyes seemed lost in another dimension behind her crooked black spectacles.
“Of course,” she said. “You are well aware of the risks and -”
“Look, Lisa,” I interjected, “is this thing going to get me where I want to go or isn’t it?”
“It’s Dr. Montague,” she replied in a clipped tone. “I don’t use my Christian name with the general populace.” I rolled my eyes. It should be illegal to give the title of “doctor” to anyone incapable of practicing medicine. Granted, Dr. Lisa Montague was most likely intelligent enough to become proficient in any field she wished, but she was still insufferable.
“Okay Steven,” Dr. Montague said, breaking my reverie. “All systems check out and as soon as my assistant administers the sedative you will be good to go. You remember how to come back?” I nodded. The vehicle was equipped with an additional power source to eliminate the need for electricity or other external power sources once out of the lab. There was also only one place I could go after I reached my destination: home. I could not manipulate the machine to stray from the one pre-programmed course and Dr. Montague, of course, was the only one who could make changes to any course and those changes needed done remotely.
Dr. Montague’s assistant walked in with a tray containing a seemingly extra-large syringe, a vial of a substance I took to be the sedative, and some sort of antiseptic. My skin crawled at the thought of a needle piercing its smooth surface. I shivered.
“Is the sedative necessary?” I asked. Dr. Montague frowned. “Steven, we have been over this. While it is possible to make the journey without the sedative it often leads to suboptimal outcomes.” I flashed her a toothy grin. “But I’m a big boy, I’m sure I can handle it.” She blinked in response.
“Actually, your height is only 30th percentile for young men your age and if we were to make casts of your hands and other extremities we would undoubtedly find -”
“Fine, fine,” I interjected. I caught her young, blonde assistant cracking a smile and I wanted none of that.
“You do know where the pill sedative is for the return journey?” Dr. Montague asked. I nodded. “Show me,” she continued. I pointed to a small compartment clearly marked on the dashboard. She nodded her satisfaction.
The blonde assistant introduced herself as Felicity. She had lovely blue eyes but I only got the smallest glimpse of them as she remained focused on swabbing a swath of my skin with antiseptic, loading the syringe, and lowering it into position. The dashboard lit up as I faded away.
A soft humming woke me what seemed to be a short while later. I reached out to hit the required button on the dashboard, then extricated myself from the multitude of restraints Dr. Montague insisted were necessary. I double-checked the date and time on the control panel. I frowned at the month and day - I had wanted to arrive during the fall, not the heat of the summer - but the year was perfect. I had gotten myself 45 years into the future.
While the time machine had landed in an open field, I could hear the sounds of music not too far off. I let the beating of the drum guide me to my next destination.
The sight that greeted me on those city streets 45 years in the future was even better than I could’ve dreamed. A banner of my smiling, albeit older, face hung between a few high rise buildings and it was clear a parade was about to start.
For being 45 years in the future, some elements of the parade seemed a bit primitive. Only a few floats rolled by. These floats also depicted me. The rest of the parade consisted of elaborate drumlines, music, and the most peculiar addition. Straw effigies of me seemed to be the most popular element of this parade. Almost all of the townspeople seemed to have one in addition to the folks partaking in the parade. After the procession passed, the civilians in the street followed with their straw effigies being held up into the air by brooms or other long sticks.
Surely everything I was working on in the present made these people’s lives better. Why else would they be having a parade for me? Of course, there was the scandal I had hoped to escape by making this sojourn. I couldn’t be arrested if I was literally in another time! This was clearly evidence that none of that mattered. I had been right about everything.
The communal parade continued for quite some ways. Perhaps I had made an even bigger impact that I thought I would. I followed at a bit of a distance, wary of the civilians recognizing me. Would future me be surprised to see me? I didn’t think so. I’d always known I was clever.
I followed the procession to Cedar Grove Park. Sweat poured down my face and I became even more determined not to be recognized. Imagine seeing your idol as a disheveled, sweaty mess. I could not allow it to happen.
The floats and vehicles were left at the park’s entrance. Only the most momentary of pauses was taken, however, and as a group the townspeople pushed forward. They paused once they reached the bank of the river. The rushing current had remained unchanged by time.
One by one, the people approached the sandy bank and stuck their straw effigy into the sand.
“Where’s yours?” I looked down and saw a small girl looking up at me. Her dark eyes contained an intensity I had previously believed to be exclusive to adults. I smiled at her. “My what?” She pointed to the row of effigies. “Your Steven.”
“Why do I need a Steven?” I asked her. She placed her hands on her hips and pursed her lips. “Today is the Steven Walked Festival,” she recited proudly. “That sounds like fun!” I exclaimed. The child nodded before leaving me as quickly and as unannounced as she had come.
A Steven Walker Festival. I smiled to myself. What an honor. I looked around at the mass of townspeople. A flash of light caught my eye and drew my gaze back to the effigies. The effigy to the leftmost side had caught fire.
Alarmed, I looked around to see if any of the townspeople had noticed yet. They were more occupied by some sort of chanting to notice. I started to make my way to the left when another flash of light caught my eye. An effigy in the center of the pack was burning. I stopped in my tracks. A cheer rose up from the crowd as a third effigy burst into flames.
Shock rooted me to the spot. They were burning my effigies? What did this mean? I noticed a crumpled brochure on the ground, someone must have lost it.
I felt myself growing pale as I read. This festival was about me all right. It just wasn’t designed to celebrate me. What could I have done to deserve this? Vaguely, I saw the little girl from earlier tug on the hand of an adult and point my way. The man looked up from his young companion and straight at me. His eyes narrowed. A chill ran down my spine despite the heat.
I turned and ran. I did not wait to see what happened to the charred remains of my effigies nor to see if the man really recognized who I was. My heart seemed ready to jump out of my chest as I backtracked to where I had left the time machine. I did not pause to catch my breath before jumping inside.