Summary: Adam wakes to find a stranger in the house and and not everything as it was before he fell asleep.
Rating: G (2,300 words)
A Few Changes
Adam Cartwright sat up in bed and stretched, for once he had had a good night’s sleep. He had been out in Virginia City the evening before and might have had one or two drinks too many, but this morning he felt no ill effects.
What he did feel was ready for the day’s work, so he got up, and shaved and dressed quickly. He did not bother to even look out of the window, such was his eagerness to get started on his chores. He opened his bedroom door and went to the top of the stairs.
He put one foot on the stairs and then stopped so suddenly he nearly fell the rest of the way. Something was wrong. Looking down into the great room that served as office, sitting room and dining room in the large house he had designed and built for his family, he sensed a change. He spotted immediately the wood-burning heater to the right of the office alcove was now on the left. He looked to his left and saw French windows in a wall that had been solid the night before.
He continued slowly down the stairs. What had happened? Had his father been up the night before altering the design? No, it would take more than one night and one man to do that, and it would be too noisy. He went slowly round the room. Other things had changed, small things but noticeable. Instead of the latch on the front door, there was a handle. The picture over the cabinet was different. The stones that made up the great fireplace were no longer the soft rounded ones that he had chosen so carefully to soften the harshness of the wall of rock. The chairs round the dining table were more ornate than the ones that had been there the night before, and there were six of them, not the usual four.
As he looked at the dining table, his eyes continued to the window. Through the trees outside he could see Lake Tahoe! Now he knew that something was very far wrong. This house should be many miles from the lake, and had been when he came home last night!
He turned on legs suddenly unsteady and sat down at the table in the place usually occupied by his father. He was thinking that he would wait there for the rest of his family to get up. Perhaps he was going mad, they would be able to tell him. He put his head in his hands, not wanting to look any further for fear of what he might see.
He heard footsteps coming along the landing. Good, someone else was up. Now maybe he would find out what his family had been up to during the night.
The figure that appeared at the top of the stairs had him even more confused. It was a man, that was certain, but after that, he wasn’t so sure what he was seeing. This man coming down the stairs was like no one he had ever seen before. His long grey hair flowed down his back and his equally grey beard was long enough to lie on his chest. He was wearing long flowing robes of deepest blue, which seemed to shimmer as he moved. The eyes that looked at Adam from the elderly face were large, dark pools, which gave the impression of an overwhelming intelligence. The face that could be seen under the beard was not unfriendly, indeed the man appeared to be smiling.
Adam rose to greet the newcomer, who advanced towards him.
“Ah, there you are.” The man said.
“Yes, here I am.” Said Adam not sure what else to say to the man, who appeared to know him.
“Excuse me, should I know you?” Adam asked.
“Well not necessarily. Sometimes it takes people like that, holes in the memory. But don’t worry it will sort itself out soon.”
Adam was getting more confused by the second.
“Let me introduce myself. My name is probably unpronounceable for you, but you may call me Axel.”
“Well, Axel, exactly what is going on around here?” Adam demanded. He had decided that he needed to take control of the situation.
“Oh dear, I knew I should not have entrusted this to a novice, you can’t rely on them to do even the simplest task unsupervised. Come outside, I think it will be easier to explain if you see it. Otherwise you probably won’t believe me.”
Adam followed the man through the front door, and once again came to a standstill. Where there should have been trees there were small buildings. He turned to Axel.
“Well?” Adam said pointing towards the wooden huts
“Yes, very well, thank you.”
Adam had had about enough of this. He was preparing to grab this old man and shake the truth out of him. Axel saw the look on Adam’s face and decided he had better explain.
“I am from the future, a long time in the future. We needed to change a few things round here to protect that future. Unfortunately, when our operative came back to your time to make those changes you got caught in the back wash from the time vortex. It brought you to my time. I told the operative to send you back immediately, and he sent you here by mistake. Of course you are not really here, we must get you back to where you belong straight away.”
Adam stood stunned. He was an intelligent man with a logical mind, but this was too much to take in. He would have liked to dismiss what Axel had told him, but the evidence of his eyes told him that something was wrong and he could not explain it.
He started to wander further from the house, going round the back of the building where there should have been nothing but trees stretching towards the mountains. Instead he saw more buildings, and what strange buildings they were. They appeared to be like fairground stalls, but more permanent, advertising trinkets, photo services and food among other things. Suddenly he stopped. He saw a small graveyard and went over to it hesitantly. The gravestones bore the names of his father, Ben, and his two brothers, Hoss and Little Joe, but the dates were all wrong. One said his father was born in 1825. Adam knew for certain that he himself had been born in 1830. His brother’s dates of birth were all wrong too.
“No gravestone for me?” He asked.
“No, not here. The people who built this place seemed to have forgotten about you. The popular history of your family does not mention your return to the Ponderosa, which came later.”
“The people…?” He asked vaguely, not really paying attention. He walked away, tears in his eyes at having seen evidence of the death of his family.
He walked down a steep slope towards more of the same buildings, all offering some kind of entertainment. Then he saw what he recognised as a bar.
“So I’m not really here, huh? He asked.
Axel nodded his agreement.
“Good, then this won’t matter.” And he went over to the saloon and smashed a window in the front door. He went in and emerged a minute later with a bottle of whisky in his hand. He unscrewed the top and took a swig, then looked approvingly at the label and nodded.
“Good stuff.” He said and took another drink.
He wandered further peering through shop windows until suddenly he stopped, and laughed out loud.
“Oh he’d like that.” Said Adam, “Hoss burgers!” He said as he read a large sign.
Adam sat down at a table in an open sided shelter.
“Right now, tell me everything.” He was now prepared to listen to Axel. Anything he said could not be any stranger than the things he had just seen.
“Very well. But I should warn you that you will have no memory of what I tell you. When you return to your own time you will carry on as though nothing had happened.”
“That’s all right, tell me anyway.”
“We were growing concerned at the level of violence that was developing around here in your time, and your family seemed to get involved in more than your fair share of trouble. You left home for a while, but returned when your father became too ill to manage the ranch. You were killed in an altercation over some cattle. We could not let that happen to you.
“You must understand that time is not a constant, there are different time lines, all running along beside one another. Different events take the lines off into different realities. Only one is considered as the true reality and takes precedence over all the others. When something happens to adversely affect the main time line, we try to ascertain which is the best option from all the lines available to us, and take steps to put that time line in the place of the one that has gone astray.
“That is what happened in this case. You were killed before you could marry and have children. We could not let that happen, for if you died I would not be here to save you.”
Adam was listening, bemused.
“So you’re saying that you are here to put right something that is changing your present?”
“Yes,” said Axel pleased and surprised that Adam had understood. He had been told that people from Adam’s time were primitive.
“Yes. You see you have to live and marry and have children because your great, great, great, grand daughter discovered the secret of faster than light travel, which enabled the human race to travel to the stars. There they found other races, and by putting their science with yours they brought peace and prosperity to a galaxy that had been at war constantly for thousands of years. Her work also led to the discovery of time travel.”
Adam sat stunned. His however many times great granddaughter! A scientist of renown, saving the galaxy!
Axel was speaking again. “We had to bring some civilisation to this area so that you and your family could live in relative peace. Obviously, we could not do too much or it would be noticed, but we changed peoples attitudes just a little. Ethnic minorities would be treated with more respect, people would not carry guns all the time, and generally the atmosphere would be calmer. If you were going to be able to remember your former history, you would find some other things we changed. Your stepmother Marie, for instance. In the reality before we changed it she died falling from her horse, now she dies in an explosion. This affects you, you shun violence, and this will save you when the time comes.”
There was a long silence. Adam was trying to digest what he had heard, and was finding it difficult. He looked round at the buildings around him.
“You still haven’t explained about this place. What is it?”
“Your family became quite famous as pioneers in this part of the country and a hundred years after you lived here they made a television programme about you all. It was quite surprising, the actors they used bear a remarkable resemblance to you and you family. ”
“Just a minute.” Adam interrupted Axel. “They made a what?”
“A television programme.” Adam was looking puzzled so Axel explained. “Television was a means of mass communication and entertainment. Don’t worry about it, as I said before you are not going to remember any of this.”
“Ok, go on.”
“They made this programme which was very popular, so popular indeed, that they built this place, and let the public come to visit it. They all remember the Cartwright name and want to try to capture a little piece of your way of life. This is not the only place that the Cartwrights are popular. There are web sites dedicated to you and your escapades.”
“Could I see one of these programmes or…what did you call it…web sites?”
“The television programmes I could show you if we had time, but I think you had better not see the web sites. There is one in particular which is filled by women who think far too much of you. They would tear each other apart just to spend some time with you.”
“Who me?” Asked Adam incredulous.
“How charmingly modest you are. Well its time we were getting back.”
Axel stood and started walking back towards the house, Adam following lost in a daydream. All those women wanted him; wait until Joe hears about that!
As Adam entered the house, he could hear Axel talking, apparently to himself.
“Yes, he’s ready now.” Axel said
“Get him to the top of the stairs.” Said a voice. Adam looked round but could see no one else in the room.
“Well you heard, would you please go to the top of the stairs. Adam did as he was asked, and when he reached the landing, he turned and looked down at Axel.
“Yes, but don’t stand too close to the stairs you may fall when you arrive at the other end.”
Adam took a pace back and stood, waiting expectantly.
“Well, what happens now?”
“Goodbye.” Axel said.
Adam started down the stairs, he had a lot to do today and was eager to get started. He went over and sat at his accustomed place at the end of the table. He looked out of the window behind his father’s chair. He could see the hills in the distance. It looked as though it was going to be a fine day.