Archie had finally done it. He’d made a time machine. The grants committee said that he couldn’t do it and laughed him out the door, but they were wrong. Even Eugene, the mad scientist living in the haunted house three streets away had tried to discourage him.
“Even if you build a time machine, you can’t go back and change time,” Eugene said. “Everybody knows that.”
“Everybody is wrong, and I’m going to prove it.” Archie glared at Eugene.
Eugene sighed. “Why is this so important to you? What do you want to change?”
“My dog Rex was hit by a car when I was five. I’m going to save Rex.”
It took years of work, but it was worth it. He patted his framed photo of Rex with a smile. “I’ll see you soon, buddy.”
In the middle of the night, he moved the machine to the park by his childhood home and set the date and time. There was a burst of light and the time machine buzzed. It stopped.
It was morning, a half hour before Rex would come racing out the front door. Archie locked up the time machine and covered it with a tarp. He looked around. Something wasn’t quite right.
The world looked hazy. It was like there was a bad connection between him and the world around him. Archie reached out to touch a nearby tree. His hand went straight through. He looked down. His feet were floating a few inches above the ground.
This was not good. If he couldn’t touch anything, how would he save Rex? Maybe he could still be heard or seen. He had time to figure this out.
He walked through the park. The old lady who came to sit on the park bench and knit was already there, sitting in the shade. She didn’t look as old as he’d remembered.
He almost tried to sit down next to her, but caught himself just in time. He reached out and his hand went through the bench. That could have been comical.
“Mrs. Simon, can you hear me?” he asked politely. She didn’t look up. “Can you hear me?” he asked a little louder. She didn’t stop knitting.
A man walked by with a dog. Archie followed him, trying to get the dog’s attention. Nothing he did worked. No one could see or hear him.
He couldn’t bear to watch Rex die again. He decided to go back and fix what was wrong. Even better, he’d go to the future and get the answer from his future self. If he couldn’t see or hear himself, he’d at least be able to look at the time machine and see what was different.
Archie returned to the time machine and set the date for five years into the future from when he’d left. That should be enough time to fine-tune the machine. Getting it to travel in time was the hard part.
There was a burst of light, and the machine buzzed. When he stopped, there was nothing. The time machine was floating in a formless void. There were no stars or bits of rocks or anything at all. Even if the earth had been destroyed somehow, surely there would be something left?
Obviously, his time machine had more problems than he’d thought. Time to return and fix it. He set the date and time to five minutes before he left.
The world was hazy again. He watched his ghostly double set up the machine, climb in and set the date and time. There was a burst of light, and the world was back in focus.
He drove the machine back home. Eugene was waiting on his front porch. “Now you know,” he said.
Archie frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Do you think you were the first to build a time machine? To try to go back and fix something?”
“Well, yes. Everyone else thought it wouldn’t work.”
Eugene shook his head. “I told you that you couldn’t fix anything, not that it wouldn’t work. The past can’t be changed. The future hasn’t happened yet, so it doesn’t exist.”
“Some people spend so much time trying to change what can’t be changed, that they don’t live the life they have now. It’s such a waste.”
Archie sat on the porch steps with a thump. “But Rex…”
“Was a very happy dog, and is probably in a good place. But there are other dogs that need help now. And there are other projects that could use your attention.” Eugene patted his shoulder. “It’s a lesson we all have to learn. Welcome to the mad scientist club.”
Archie sat up straighter. “Wait, there’s a club? And you have to build a time machine to join? Wow.”
Eugene smiled and started to walk away. “We meet every third Thursday at the convention center,” he called over his shoulder. “Bring cookies.”
The world seemed just a little bit brighter.