A Fool’s Errand (Short Story)

I have decided to do a few short stories as a break from wading through some longer writing projects. So here is A Fool’s Errand. If you feel like it, let me know what you think.

George

 

I told Zac that he should be careful. You can’t be too careful where time travel is concerned. There is always a price to pay.

I had met Zac in about 2012, we worked together. He was a career public servant in his early fifties, as far as I knew. He was bored with his job, bored with his hobbies, in fact, bored with life. As the years went by I thought he would get over it. Most people get over their mid-life crisis. However, Zac didn’t, and I became concerned. I felt that I needed to help him, so I am at least partially to blame. I sent him back in time.

I’ve been back plenty of times myself. The trick is not to do anything that impacts too much. You don’t want to disrupt other people’s lives, and you want to be careful about what impact you might have on your own life. You’ll still be able to come back, but whatever you do back in time has the potential to change where you’re at now. This is a fixed point in time – whatever happens you’ll always have been here to start your journey back in time, at least other than in exceptional circumstances, but how you got here may well change.

The thing about the echoes of time that is no longer real is that it takes a bit of time for your brain to reorganise itself into the new timeline. And you need to remember to take the return unit, enter in the code when you want to return. You’ll arrive back a few minutes after you left, usually about 10 in my experience.

When I’d told Zac I had a time-machine, he’d laughed, until he realised I was serious.

‘Do you go back in time?’ he’d asked.

I’d nodded, ‘Yeah. Usually just to relive my moments of glory or contentment.’

‘Has it changed your life?’

I’d considered my answer carefully. ‘Not so that you’d notice.’

‘I want to change mine.  I don’t want to be here anymore. I want a better life.’

‘Be very careful,’ I’d cautioned him. ‘Be really careful. I’d advise you go back and find some nice moments to relive. Nothing more.’

He’d nodded, but said no more. Perhaps I should have pushed him further on this, emphasised once more the potential for problems, but I didn’t.

We met on a Sunday afternoon and I showed him my machine. It didn’t look like much, just a slightly under-sized photobooth made of stainless steel. I’d again asked Zac whether he really wanted to go through with this. He’d said that he did, but I had a feeling he’d come along to take the mickey, get a story for work about me, start some gossip about the eccentric policy officer who claimed he had a time machine. So there we were in my garage looking at it.

‘How’d you get it,’ he’d asked me. ‘Did you make it?’

‘No way. I got it off a bloke.’

‘Oh yeah? Did you meet him in bar?’

I’d smiled and said no. Then I told him about man who had arrived in my back yard some years ago. He was from the future, in fact a colony out near Proxima Centauri and had wanted to get away from a bad situation. Apparently late 20th and early 21st Century Earth was considered a fine place to live, a golden age of history. We’d talked for a while before he simply said he was starting life all over again and had walked away, but not before he’d disabled the machine’s own time-travel system. It would be forever stuck in this time only able to send its occupants but not itself through time.

‘Where did he go?’

‘I have no idea.’

‘Why did he come here?’

‘He didn’t say. He just walked away and I haven’t seen him since. That would have been about four years ago.’

‘Haven’t you gone forward in time to find him? Find out what happened to him? Find out what happens to you?’

‘How could I? I don’t know where or when he came from. Or where he’s gone.’

‘So you haven’t had the urge to go to the future?’

‘No. Knowing what life is going to bring is taking all the joy and excitement away.’

‘But you could find out how things panned out! Play the share market, get the lottery numbers, make your life so much better!

I’d shaken my head. ‘There’s more to life than that.’

He’d looked at me as though I was mad. ‘But it would make life so much easier. You haven’t even been once, just to have a look?’

‘I decided not to jump forward in time, and I won’t send anybody else forward either!’

Zac had shrugged. I think he was still thinking I was some nutjob and he was baiting me. ‘Okay then. Let’s get this show on the road,’ he’d laughed. ‘If it’s real, that is.’

‘I wondered when you were going to doubt me,’ I’d said to him. ‘But don’t worry, I’d expect nothing less. The proof will come soon. Take a seat.’ I pointed to the machine. ‘When do you want to go to?’

‘I’ve thought about that a bit and I’ve settled on 1980. That was an interesting time.’

I punched in the year. It would take him there on this day. Then I showed him the return unit and how to get himself back here.

‘Remember you’ll be in a 19 year-old body, and you’ve only got one month. After that you’ll be stuck there. So don’t wait too long to come back. And remember that your actions can have consequences for you and other people. I’ve written the return code on your business card here with instructions. You’ll come across it if you forget. Don’t lose the return unit, and don’t have too much fun, okay?’

Zac had nodded at me. ‘Right-ho, let’s go.’

Perhaps I should have reminded him once more about being careful, but I didn’t. I pulled the lever for the power and punched in an activation code. Then he disappeared. I went off to make a cup of tea. It would be about 10 minutes before he came back, so I sipped my tea and read the paper.

He arrived back almost bang on 10 minutes with a smile on his face.

‘Did it go well?’ I’d asked.

He’d grinned. ‘Sure did, I had such a great time.’

‘What did you do?’

‘I caught up with Sarah McKenzie. She was so hot! We had a great time for a month. I might have neglected my studies a bit at university, though, but wow! She was so hot.’

I’d nodded and smiled.

He’d said, ‘You know, I thought you were some sort of crackpot. I only came because I’d nothing better to do, but…’ He’d left the sentence unfinished.

‘I know.’

Then he’d talked about his month in 1980 before I’d eventually had to plead another engagement to get rid of him.

The next day, a Friday, I’d seen him at work. He was wearing a frown.

‘Everything okay?’

‘Not really,’ he’d said. ‘I have different memories.’

‘Come round tonight and we’ll discuss it,’ I’d said. It was clear that he’d done something that had changed his life, but how seriously I didn’t know.

He’d arrived at my house in a bit of a state, his clothing dishevelled, his eyes wide. I’d offered him a drink and he’d asked for a rum. As he’d sat sipping it he’d looked me directly in the eye.

‘I’m still married, but I have been three times. It’s all coming back to me. Before I went back, I’d only ever been married to Kaylene.’ Hestopped for a moment and stared at me. ‘What’s happened?’

I’d sighed. ‘I told you to be careful. Tell me what you did’

‘Nothing much. And did I tell you that I’m paying child support for three children and supporting two ex-wives? It’s a nightmare.’

I’d nodded patiently. ‘But what did you do that might have changed things?’

‘Well…’

‘Yes?’

‘Well, Sarah McKenzie is my first ex-wife, and we had a kid really young. It only lasted a few years and then I had met Kaylene, but that didn’t last either, and now I’m married to Ruby. Although judging from last night’s conversion that might not last either. I feel depressed, my job’s still the same – life sucks!’

He’d looked at me with desperation, ‘I need to go back and fix it.’

‘Hold on. I did warn you.’ I’d reminded him.

He’d nodded mutely.

‘If I agree to send you back, and only if, what exactly are you going to do?’

‘I’m not sure, but what I do know is that I’m not going to shag Sarah McKenzie. No way! I’m not having three wives again. I’ve fucked up my life.’

I’d looked closely at him. I hadn’t been convinced, but he’d pleaded with me to let him go and I’m ashamed to say that I again weakened and agreed. His total desperation had been too much to resist, but I had made him promise on his mother’s life that he’d stay away from the McKenzie girl.

He’d arrived back 10 minutes later all smiles.

‘I never even went to her house,’ was the first thing he’d said.

I’d been relieved. ‘What did you do?’

‘I put all my energy into football. You know I’d forgotten how much I used to enjoy it. And this time I took it seriously, trained properly. It was great, I even got selected for representative honours.’

‘Fantastic. Sounds like you really had fun this time. Trying to relive your youth can be a fool’s errand if you’re not careful,’ I’d said, relieved that he’d probably solved his marital problems. He had left with a spring in his step, or was it a limp. Some injury I presumed.

He was back two days later, hobbling and with a stoop.

‘You’ve got to send me back again,’ he’d moaned.

‘Why? What’s happened this time?’

Zac collapsed into a chair with a groan. ‘I took my football so seriously that I became a professional. Twenty years of running and hard knocks and a crippling career ending knee injury have left me a physical wreck. It’s painful just to walk sometimes. Kaylene has to work full-time to support us and she’s so worn down that she’s become depressed.’

The man had shrunk before my eyes. He was in obvious pain, both mental and physical, and was probably as depressed as his wife. I caved in and agreed to send him back yet again. What else could I do? But this time I’d told him that this was definitely the last time. He’d told me that he was going to do nothing different than when he was young. I believed him. His experience of time travel so far had shaken him to the core and by now he’d realise that his life had not been that bad. So I’d sent him back for the last time.

I must admit that I had a rather nervous wait and a beer while I awaited his return. He’d returned looking pale and exhausted, but content. I couldn’t blame him after his last two trips.

‘Did it all go well?’ I’d asked him.

He’d nodded. ‘Yes it did. I just did what I had to do. It was quit tedious, but I didn’t have a problem with that. I simply put in place a system to remind myself to invest wisely in companies in the future. Hopefully Kaylene and I should be comfortable now and able to retire.’

‘You look a bit unwell.’

‘Yeah, I caught a cold or flu just before I left to come back. I’m still a bit out of it.’

‘Well, at least it sounds like you were sensible. Let me know how you go.’

‘I will,’ he’d promised, but I never saw him again. At first his absence from work hadn’t bothered me, after all he’d probably be retired. Eventually, however, curiosity got the better of me. I searched for Zac Freeman on the internet, and found him. My heart sank.

Zac had lost all of his money at age 25 after some reckless investing in the stock market. He became destitute and died from a drug overdose soon after. There was no going back from that. He’d never even got here in the first place. This was no fixed point in time if you died before you got there. I probably should have told him that although I doubt he would have listened.

It was then that I realised that he’d only been alive when he’d returned because of the time transition field. It wouldn’t have taken long to reality to catch up. All of a sudden he’d simply cease to exist and nobody would notice, because he’d already have been dead for years. It probably happened minutes after he’d left my house. I’d as good as killed him by letting him use my machine. But, then again, he wouldn’t have had many years left anyway. I’d not robbed him of much. So, as I sit here writing this story, I don’t feel a huge amount of responsibility, and I will tell you why.

Today is 3 November 2015 and I am going to program the machine to take me back to 1982, because tomorrow the world will end. An asteroid is going to come out of a blind spot and strike in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I know this because when the man with the time machine arrived he told me not to try and go forward into the future. I tried once, but saw only chunks of the planet, and I almost suffocated. I pressed the return button just in time, before the time transition field wore off. So I know that tomorrow the world will end.

I’m going back to 1982 – again. This will be my fifth time, but after living for three hundred years I am tired. I don’t forget anymore, either; there are just more memories. I see the people that I love die again, and I’m getting immune to that now – that worries me. I think this will be the last trip back. You can only live the same life so many times.

 

 

 

 

 

Lord Barr-Studd of the M1 – a politician of note

New politicians can do themselves a favour by studying the career of Lord Barr-Studd. A long sitting Member of the House of Lords, Barr-Studd has managed to achieve very little in his career, but has provided a great many examples of how to come up with the cutting and memorable quote.

Lord Barr-Studd resides in on an anonymous property between Milton Bryan and Eversholt, near Junction 12 on the M1. The good Lord has managed to lose his driving licence no fewer than 17 times. He is currently suspended from driving. Lord DeVere Barr-Studd is, in fact, the 27th Earl of Drule, however the number of times he has been seen standing at Junction 12, and many other junctions between there and London, trying to hitch a lift to Parliament, led to his title being officially changed to Lord of the M1. Barr-Studd refuses to travel on any form of public transport because he is convinced that cholera, malaria, rickets, tuberculosis, polio, scarlet fever, and the Black Death, are still rife among the lower classes.

He is currently lobbying to be made chairman of the Road Safety Committee due to his extensive experience in this area. When asked about the reason for this he replied, ‘We need to change the law on the speed limit. It is outrageous that I cannot drive my Aston Martin as fast as it can go. Speed limits were only ever meant to apply to the common people who do not have the common sense to drive safely.’

Lord Barr-Studd sees it as his patriotic and ancestral duty to attend the House of Lords and, despite his often late appearance, he has managed to cast his vote on many issues. An outspoken critic of everybody, Barr-Studd eventually decided to become an independent and sit on the cross-benches. Due to his current driving suspension and wish to only hitchhike with ‘the right sort of people’, not the ‘common oiks’, he now spends much of his time on the benches of the Red Lion drinking real ale. In his most recent press release he has announced that he is independent of thought and will no longer be taking his seat in Parliament. All five parties of which he has been a member agree that he is indeed independent from thought.

Regarded as slightly to the right of just about everybody else in the country, Lord DeVere Barr-Studd’s most famous quotes include:

 

  • Sink the boats before they reach our shores. We don’t want them in this country.’ This was a reference to ferries full of French tourists.
  • ‘Paying tax is for morons. Look how much of it the government wastes.’ He said this when his own party was in power.
  • ‘Everybody should own a gun, this was just a minor mishap.’ This quote came after he was shot by his friend and fellow Lord, Winstanley Watson of Rockall, on the first day of the duck hunting season.
  • ‘This is a police state! Speed cameras just raise money which is then wasted on poor people.’ – after losing his licence for the 7th time.
  • Who are all these senile, dribbling, and rambling old bastards?’ – on attending his first party-room meeting.

 

Voter’s Manifesto

This is not my usual satire and light-hearted stuff , but I am increasingly pissed off with politicians so this is my Voter’s Manifesto…for all politicians. I don’t care which party you are in.

Dear Politician,

I, a voter, am fed up with you lying to me and taking me for granted. I am not impressed with your constant whining and lack of accountability, your insistence on blaming others for your mistakes and trying to pass blame down the line when you should take responsibility. You constantly break election promises, give in to cheap short-term opportunism at the expense of making long-term decisions for the good of the country, and demean me with short slogans rather than explaining your policies properly. I am fed up with hearing you all behaving like children bickering in the schoolyard, being bullies, and treating us like servants of the economy, rather than acknowledging that the economy is there to assist in the running of a country.

So, this is my simple 7-point manifesto,

1.  If you spend your time demeaning your opponents with personal attacks , I will not vote for you.

2. If you try to hold others to standards that you have not met yourself, I will not vote you.

3. If you break election promises, I will not vote for you.

4. If you sign away sovereign rights on trade deals, you are disempowering yourselves and the public who vote for you, so I will not vote for you.

5. If you make policy u-turns just because there is some short-term political gain rather than for the long-term benefit of the country, I will not vote for you.

6. If you refuse to answer interviewers’ questions and just dribble on about what you want to say, I will not vote for you.

7. If I think you are taking my vote for granted, I will not vote for you

that is all.

Bartwald on Jousting

I want to tell you about my favourite sporting hero – my apologies in advance

 

Bartwald was the premier jouster of his time. He performed many times in front of Henry II. Undeniably the star of sport, he had a serious following throughout England and neighbouring European countries. This consisted mostly of young women, including a large proportion of the Royal Court. It would be fair to say that he was the forerunner of the modern football star.

Bartwald never won a tournament but was often in the final. He never gave up, and was eventually immortalised in the well-known portrait Bartwald Flies Again, by the famous painter of the time, Thyrdwulf Eardwulf. He acquired his nickname due to the number of times he copped a lance in his face and ended up flat on his back, or fell headfirst from his horse.

His rugged although rapidly deteriorating good looks and his lack of intelligence, made him perfectly suitable for the sport. It was said in some quarters, perhaps unfairly, that he managed to carry on jousting for so long because there was nothing in his head to damage. This was mainly from jealous tournament winners who could not get the women they fancied because they all swooned over Bartwald. Unfortunately he was often too drunk to notice, this being the only way he could dull the pain of his injuries.

Unfortunately Bartwald met an early end when he was knocked off his horse in a joust, fell on his head and suffered severe concussion. In his disoriented and confused state he mistook King Henry for his opponent and went to launch a full-blooded attack. Running full pelt at an increasingly worried king, he drew his sword, tripped, and managed to impale himself with his own blade. This was another scene captured by Thyrdwulf Eardwulf entitled Bartwald Ends.

Being a forerunner of the modern sports star, Bartwald was often cornered by the local Court Reporters for an interview. He struggled manfully at such times but was not capable of putting many coherent sentences together. Some of his more relevant insights to his sporting life were recently found in papers that had been mixed with valuable historical documents at the British Museum.

On his chosen sport:

‘Yeah…jousting…it’s like…a game of two ends…you know?’

‘It’s a mental game, jousting. You got to have a mental approach…really mental, if you know what I mean!’

On a recent performance:

‘I done everyfing right, and would have won if I hadn’t lost’

‘I’m in good shape, probably just a couple of broken ribs and a punctured lung… Tomorrow’s annuvver day.’

‘Ggnnhhh’

 

Bartwald is one of the dregs of history – more can be found at http://www.dresgofhistory.blogspot.com

In the Desert

From my point upon the hill,
I gaze upon the land and fill
my cup with water as I ponder
the next direction I must wander.
Over there, north-east I think,
which will bring me to the brink
of yet more of these blasted ridges
up which I’ll climb and dream of fridges
stacked with tempting ice-cold beer.
Perhaps I’ll go insane this year?

In this hot and dusty region
too hostile for the Foreign Legion
there’s no-one else, there’s only me
with mad dogs for good company
and nothing but the desert’s song
to send me nuts before too long,
run naked through these open spaces
get sunburnt in my tender places
and thank the lord that I’m still sane,
and dance in imaginary rain.

6 questions for all aspiring politicians

Our politicians often become the brunt of criticism and sometimes have abuse hurled their way. We all like to stick the knife in as they continually make us grind our teeth and shout at the television. Still, there are always people who aspire to these lofty heights, so if you have ever thought about becoming a politician I have some advice for you. It is, to be sure, a fine and worthwhile career choice; however, before you leap into the quagmire of politics you should ask yourself some very serious questions. Think carefully about the environment into which you are heading and the likelihood that you will chewed up and spat out very quickly. I know that you will be feeling a fair degree of uncertainty and so I have devised a few questions that will help you decide whether you are made of the Right Stuff for politics.

Q1 – Have you ever made a mistake?

 It is a well-known fact that very few politicians have ever made a mistake, so if you believe you have made a mistake, no matter how trivial, you are clearly unsuitable for a political career. If you have never made a mistake, ever, then you have the right mental make-up to start thinking about standing at the next election.

Q2 – Have you lost your grip on reality?

 Being remote from reality is essential for a politician – it makes decisions far easier to reach. There is no chance of becoming lost in the myriad of opinions and inconveniences that is the everyday life of the common person. If you know what the average weekly wage is, the cost of a loaf of bread, or how many people are currently suffering from mortgage stress (and what that actually means), then you are already filling your mind with too much information about the real world. You will most likely to reach a state of mental paralysis. How can you possibly come to a decision if you are trying to balance out the needs of all the community?  It is far better to choose a small but influential group of stakeholders and concentrate on keeping them happy. Once you have done this you can make quick and un-researched statements to the media whenever required. If you are a Minister, you may also be able to make quick and un-researched policy decisions. Surrounding yourself with staff similarly removed from the demands of the real world will help, as they will support you by not asking difficult questions.

Q3 – Do you lack moral and ethical substance as a person but have the hide of rhino?

 A good set of morals and ethics are a hindrance for politics as they may cause you to have sleepless nights and start to believe that you need a better grip on reality. You may even begin to think that you need to know more about the underprivileged and the challenges that they face. If you believe that this may occur then do not, I repeat, do not enter politics under any circumstances – you will very quickly be reduced to a burbling and rambling idiot when confronted by skilled politicians. I suggest you go and hug a tree instead –  at least the tree will not stab you in the back at the first opportunity.

Q4 – Do you have some skeletons in the closet?

 No self-respecting politician is without a past that involved something dodgy. If you haven’t been shagging prostitutes, defrauding business partners, assaulting people after a few drinks too many, had, or still have, an addiction of some sort, or been a member of a political organisation that skated on the limits of legality, then you will need to remedy this. You have two options – you can either delay your entry into politics until you have achieved some of the aforementioned, or you can work on them during your first few years in the job.

 Q5 – Can you make bad decisions in the face of overwhelming evidence and common sense?

This is a core capability for all politicians, but becomes more important as you rise through the ranks. The ability to ignore all evidence and fly in the face of common-sense when called upon to make a decision is a valued skill in Parliament. I have included a chapter on this later in the book.

Q6 – Do you have nagging inner voice telling you that you are destined for greater things

If you do, you are probably in the early stages of narcissism and have begun to believe that people actually do want to listen to you when you speak.  You may even believe that people value your judgement on current events.  If this is the case, then being a politician will provide you with the opportunity to test out this theory. You could have an audience of millions of people to talk to and, if you are smart you will surround yourself with numerous spin doctors and assistants who will convince you that the reaction of the masses to your ill-thought-out drivel is positive, no matter what they actually think. When this happens you will no doubt become convinced that your true greatness has finally come to the fore.

If you find that that you have answered yes to the all questions above, then I am pleased to tell you that may well have a long and successful political career ahead of you.

 

This is an extract from my book More Gravy Please! – a politicians manual.

The Red Carpet

Today we rolled out the red carpet
ready for the VIPs, the Chief Execs;
it’s all about respect, you know,
for those who’ve contributed,
made a difference.
At least, that’s the inference

They’re back from another round
of cost-cutting, job slashing,
efficiency enabling, downsizing,
murdering other people’s futures.
Yeah, it’s time to roll out the red carpet –
nobody wants to see where the stains land
as the blood drips off their hands.

Least of all them.

 

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