This is something I wrote many years ago, and resurrect here in honor of the day.
“Good thing I have my glasses on.” It may seem like an odd thing to have thought, given the circumstances, but I had run this scenario through my head a hundred times, and contact lenses were my chief concern. After just a day or two without a good scrubbing, they’d be useless and I’d be blind.
Who knows what triggered it. It was late on New Year’s Eve — or early on New Year’s Day — we never really cared to observe the stroke of midnight. In any event, I had long since changed into my glasses for a cozy evening before the fire with my dearest and a crock pot full of wassail. We chatted and read, casually, as we often did, not bothered by an interruption when the other had a thought to share. She was reading a collection of fanciful holiday stories — the kind that poke fun at the overly sensitive crowd — and I was rummaging about in a book on radio gadgetry to see if I could really build my latest crazy idea; a remote-controlled plane with a nose-mounted camera that could be flown beyond line-of-site.
Then I remembered that a neighbor wanted to borrow our parking space for morning visitors (on New Year’s Day, if you can believe it), so I figured it was time to slip on a jacket and drive the old wreck out to the street. I sat in the driver’s, put the keys in the ignition, and then, although I’m not entirely certain, I believe I felt a wave of dizziness. I shook my head, opened my eyes, and there I was, sitting in the exact same position on a fallen tree in the middle of the woods.
Perhaps you won’t believe me, but I was hardly surprised. It’s as if I had only been waiting for it to happen.
I assumed I was still in Laurel — in fact, in the very spot that my Chevy occupied on that winter’s night at the end of 1997. You may think me mad, but I had expected something like this for most of my life, although I was never willing to admit it to myself and take sensible precautions, like keeping a pack of matches and a knife in my pocket.
And my eyeglasses. I suppose I trusted that whoever was behind it could take care of all those details. You’d figure that a person who can move me, in the blink of an eye, from the driver’s seat of my Chevy to an ergonomically equivalent position on a log in the woods — well, he can worry about things like glasses too.
In fact, the details that would have to be worked out staggered my mind. When I was sitting in my car, planet Earth was somewhere on the edge of the galaxy, racing along at some enormous speed. To get to that log in the woods, I didn’t only have to move through time, I had to move an enormous distance through space and land on a planet in a different position in the heavens. It, of course, would be on a different step in the celestial dance and would have a different momentum, which I would have to adopt in that blink of an eye to avoid being torn to pieces.
The mind that could work out all those details and keep me from getting ripped to shreds in my instantaneous transport really didn’t need my help in planning.
The first order of business was to get some sense of when I was. If I had landed in colonial times, it wouldn’t be too far a walk to Montpelier, and not that much farther to Van Horn’s tavern. Or should I look for an Indian village? Or should I expect nothing at all? At least no human habitation.
I looked about for a clearing to get some bearing on the landscape. I was on high ground — well, I was if my theory was correct — my Chevy was on high ground in good old 1997, and the hill where it was parked commanded an impressive view of the area — so maybe I could see some lights. But there didn’t seem to be any clearing nearby, high ground or no. All I could see was trees, and even in their winter dress I couldn’t see through them for any great distance.
It was quite cold, and although my feet were grateful for my fur-lined moccasin slippers, I wasn’t sure how they’d hold up on a long march in the woods. For all I knew, I could be several miles from anything better than the dry patch of ground under me. So, taking one last careful look around, I gathered up a big pile of leaves for insulation, did a hundred jumping-jacks to get my body temperature up, then settled down for a cold night.
Then a thought occurred to me. If I was really in the past, couldn’t I write a note, asking for a thermos of hot coffee, put it somewhere conspicuous, hope someone found it and … . No, it couldn’t work, since I was already in the past. Unless I could send myself a note to bring it. But I was already here, so that didn’t seem to work either, and those kinds of questions are hard enough at 70 degrees. And the longer I stayed awake thinking about it the colder I’d get. It was time to wait out the dawn. The leaves would keep me from freezing, I guessed. My jacket had a hood in the collar, too. It wasn’t exactly warm, but it sure helped. And there wasn’t much breeze.
I passed the night with difficulty. It wasn’t intolerably cold, but it was too cold to sleep well, and I had to keep pulling armfuls of leaves back on top of me. The wassail coursing through my veins did less to keep the cold away than I’d hoped. Yes, of course alcohol only seems to warm you, but seeming is better than nothing when you’re trying to get to sleep.
From time to time I heard sounds that were eerily familiar, but for some reason I couldn’t place them. I’d heard them before. Maybe on a nature show, and that worried me a bit. You know how the mind works at night in the dark, especially when the body is stressed — but the sounds remained a mystery, and I didn’t pay that much attention.
I suppose I finally got into a convincing sleep, because the sun was up a full hand’s breadth off the horizon when I awoke. My watch said 7:15, but I wasn’t sure if that meant anything here. I was stone cold, stiff, and not at all in the mood to explore, but the hope of a fire and something warm to drink drove me out of my makeshift bed.
My body creaked and groaned as I went through a few karate forms to get the juices flowing, and to take the edge off my headache. It was a good thing my instructor wasn’t there to see that performance, but it did the trick and soon I was ready to press through the woods for higher ground.
Just then I heard the unmistakable sound of human footsteps on dry leaves. The rush of adrenaline and confused jumble of thoughts that assaulted me as I spun around for the confrontation quickly turned into complete shock. It was my neighbor, who immediately turned and called up the suddenly familiar hill, “I’ve found him. He’s down here.” Then he turned on me with a look that hovered between annoyance and accusation and said, “What in the world are you doing?”
The world had completely changed on me. Our townhouses were in easy view up the hill, and with the morning light I could see empty potato chip bags among the leaves I had slept in.
I grumbled my way back to my house, trying to avoid the curious looks of other neighbors and making some kind of half-baked excuse to the one who found me. I apologized for any trouble I’d caused him, but he quickly pointed out that I should save my apologies for my wife. And then, for the first time, I began to think about what she must have been through for the last few hours.
I opened the door reluctantly, wishing there was a rock I could hide under. My wife greeted me with tear-filled eyes, but all she said was, “Next year, let’s skip the wassail.”