The engine cycled up and I mentally prepared myself. This would be my first trip back. The first of many if this one proved successful.
The impeller whirred softly in the early-morning darkness of my workshop and the control panel splashed multi-colored reflections across the litter of tools and spare equipment. No one but I was there to witness my machine, my invention, peel back the layers of time and propel me into the past.
It landed without a noticeable noise or feeling of impact. I glanced down and where once had been the faded tile of my little home was now dark green grass. Good. The gravity lock had held. The last thing I needed was to appear in the right time but not in the right space.
This was the moment. I could choose to hit a single combination on the controls and throw myself back when I had come from. I could choose to abandon this self-imposed mission and return to a world that might not change no matter what I did.
I knew the consequences. I had studied the paradoxes. What I was attempting might be impossible. It might end up causing what I was hoping to avoid. My best bet, my only chance, was in creating an alternate world in which the version of me that was thinking would simply cease to exist. Still…the me that did exist, the world that my actions could create…it was worth any sacrifice.
I had reached the most dangerous moment. If my calculations had backfired or if the universe did not operate the way I thought it did, my first step out of the machine would be disaster. If I was lucky, I wouldn’t even feel it.
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and stepped onto the grassy knoll I had landed on.
A second passed. Then another.
I let out my breath and took in my surroundings. I could see the simple path down the hill and could hear the soft rumble of voices in the distance. This was the right place.
Leaving the machine behind me I almost flew down the path, trees giving way to a small brick building surrounded by a low chain link fence. I vaulted it easily and hurried around the edge of the building towards the source of those voices.
Two forms were surrounded by twenty more. The twenty chanted while the larger of the two pummelled the smaller. The smaller cried out, shirt torn and glasses broken in pieces near him on the ground. The bigger one laughed.
“Wuss! Pansy! Why don’t you get up and fight, huh, scaredy-cat? Wussy!”
The crowd laughed with him. I didn’t. I shoved past them until I stood behind the bigger boy. The bully. The children went silent and the smaller boy’s eyes went wide, though I’m sure he couldn’t see me without his glasses on.
I straightened my own spectacles and reached for the back of the bully’s shorts. He was bigger than the others, but no longer bigger than I was.
“Wedgie!” I cried in exhaltation, and pulled the bully’s pants straight up with all my considerable strength. Pulled so hard that his feet actually left the ground.
“Who’s the wussy now?!” I let the bully go, tears of humiliation streaming down his face. The boy with the broken glasses looked up at me in wonder and I smiled at him.
Then I ran. I knew what I had done was wrong. Immature. Irresponsible. But it had to be done. The boy with the broken glasses understood that. Of course he did. He was me.
When I got back to the machine I pulled the notepad from my back pocket and looked at the list there. Taking out the slim pen that was sheathed in the book’s lining, I struck out the top name.
“One bully down,” I said to no one as I set the coordinates for my next stop in time.
The little boy with the broken glasses heard me, though. And in my memory, he smiled.