If you’ve ever felt bad waking up in the morning, you have no clue how I felt when I was eighteen. I’m Jake by the way, or at least that’s what Mike used to call me back then. Mike raised me as a child, not as a father, but as a butcher raising his cow. Mike considered himself a doctor, not the medical type, but the scientist type. He graduated from one of the best science institutions and finished some research paper in science. But he was caught conducting some illegal experiments and thrown out. If you thought he learned his lesson, you couldn’t be more mistaken.
He built his secret laboratory and continued his experiments. Only problem was I was his test subject. It’s been this way ever since I could recollect. My daily routine included cleaning the laboratory and subjecting myself to inhumane experiments. My diet included the bare minimum necessary to keep a teenage boy alive. I only saw a glimpse of the outside world whenever Mike had to go out, and this was rare. He didn’t trust leaving me in the lab and made me accompany him. I had met very few people other than him and I’m unsure if anyone else knew of my existence.
You might think I must have made attempts to run away. Actually, it’s the contrary. I could have any day escaped by will. But I stayed; because Mike was trying to build a time machine and promised to tell me about my parents if the machine got working. He told this rather crookedly and sometimes, I could have sworn I saw him laugh when I mentioned my parents. I’ve desperately wanted to know my parents and didn’t have a choice other than helping the old goon.
Another reason I stayed is because Mike gave me a ring belonging to my father. I know it must have belonged to my father because the handwriting on the ring was eerily similar to my own. No matter how ingenious Mike was, there was no way he could have forged my handwriting so accurately. I had to accept it was my father’s. It was my only reference to my parents and I wore it all the time. There was only one word written on it. It said “Stay”. So I stayed with him.
But this day would be different from the rest. Mike visited me in my bedroom with breakfast in his hands. Something was definitely wrong. “The time machine has been built”, he said with a wicked smile “Why don’t you enjoy your last meal?” I gulped. “Today is the last experiment. You will travel to the past to where your parents lived and then return. I’ll guarantee you’ll know everything about your parents”. He sounded genuine when he said the last line, but something gave me the feeling that I might not return safely.
He took me to the time machine. It was complicated and had several multicolored levers, knobs and switches. I listened to the instructions: “Go inside and wait for my signal. Push the red button to go back to the past. Press the green button to travel back. I’ve set the time to the same age your parents lived.”
So this guy was not going to tell me anything about my parents. He’d just dump me in the past as part of his test and I had to find out everything myself. This sounded good. Better to get information first hand than rely upon a twisted maniac. Before I could think, he shoved me into the machine. “Don’t try anything stupid and do as you’re told. The machine could blow up”. Wow. Like I didn’t know that.
He yelled from outside and asked me to push the button. I saw the panel on the wall. Two red buttons stared back at me. “Hey, I think there’s something I need to tell…” I yelled. “PUSH THE BUTTON QUICK” he bellowed. So I hit both the buttons together. The machine started hooting and turning. “Travelling to the past by 20 years” said a mechanical voice. “It works. Now go die in the…” and that was the last I heard of Mike. Or at least that’s what I thought. But I had other things to worry about. The machine kept rotating and my head began to spin. I clutched a knob tightly. The door opened and I was thrown out. But the sound kept growing more intense. With horror, I realized the thing was about to blow up.
I looked around and saw the end of a cliff. On the other side was a machine about to blow off. I could jump off the cliff and take a risk of falling in the ocean but I’d have drowned by the height of the fall. There was also no way of outrunning this explosion. I wiped the sweat of my forehead. My ring caught my eye. Stay. My gut instinct repeated the word. So I stayed still.
“Travelling to the present” said a mechanical voice. The machine took off and disappeared. That was close. I looked around. The cliff was familiar. Then it hit me. This was the same place as Mike’s secret laboratory. Except, the lab wasn’t there yet. It had worked. I was in the past. I thought about the machine and about Mike in his lab. Then I thought of all the cruel experiments he had performed on me. He deserved it.
So I was free. I could go and meet my parents. I walked along, thinking how I could find them, or how I could possibly convince them I was their son. As I walked through the city, I spotted a small jewelry shop. I entered. The owner was a thin man with a scraggy beard. I showed him my ring. “Any idea where this type of stone is found?” He looked amazed. “Jane. Come here”. A small girl of around my age entered from a side door. “Yes?” she asked sweetly. Something about her caught my attention, as if I had seen her before in my dreams. Then I realized they were both staring at me. “Sorry. I wasn’t listening” I said. She blushed slightly. The man repeated, “There is only one of these types of stone in this part of the country. And I happen to possess it. Or at least it was, until you showed up”.
The girl named Jane removed something from a shelf. It looked exactly like the stone in my ring. But there were no engravings. Several thoughts raced through my head. If there was only one of these stones in these parts, this meant that this grumpy thin man was my father. Then I realized that he was way too old to be my father. So father would be one of his close relatives. Or maybe my mother was. Then I thought about Jane. Maybe she was my mother. That made this old man my grandpa. My mind was brought back to the present by the sound of grandpa’s voice. “Now pick up your jewel and get back to work girl” he said. I noticed rudeness in grandpa’s voice as he addressed mom. “Sir, I wouldn’t speak to my daughter like that” I said.
“Well, neither would I. But Jane here is a worker and she can’t spend her time idling when there’s work to do. Workers ought to know their duty”
“So Jane is not your daughter?” I asked. That was strange. Twenty years ago (from when I was born), jewelry was usually a family business.
“Oh no” he smiled slightly. “Jane is an orphan girl who helps me run the family business. I give her shelter and some food in return. We really could use a hand or two here. What are you staring at girl? Get back to work”. She looked at me one last time and left.
So that meant Jane could not be my mother. I had been so close to discovering my family. But at least I had a lead. I knew this man was related to one of my parents. I thought of staying with this man and finding out more. Moreover, this Jane girl seemed interesting. “Sir, I myself have no job or house at the moment. If you could train me, I too would willingly work. The ring is all I have other than my clothes. I am willing to sell it in return of teaching, job, food and accommodation”. He readily accepted.
Things began to move smoothly. I lived in his house for three years and learned the trade. I had them believe I was an orphan who had had only a ring. However, I was yet to find out about my parents. Excluding me and Jane, Mr. Smith (that was the old man’s name by the way) lived alone with his wife. In what I had picked up during my stay, he had no contacts with relatives. He and his wife had fled from war in their country and settled here. They had set up a jewelry shop and had somehow found workers. After struggling for a few months, they were able to make a decent living. Losing all their children in war, they found their children in me and Jane. War had made their behavior seem rough, but I could tell that they were really caring people. I began to wonder if I had made a mistake and if I’d ever find my parents.
Meanwhile, I had a new problem in my hands. I had developed a liking for Jane. We often spoke to each other, but didn’t have the pluck to tell her. Mr. and Mrs. Smith knew about this and often encouraged me to open up. But their advices weren’t helping my courage. Then one day, it just happened. “Hey, um Jane, I’ve wanted to tell you. I kind of like you.” “You know, I’ve felt the same way about you.” I just stood there motionless.
One month later, we were engaged. In reminder of how I had come to live with him, the Smiths made a replica of the ring and fit the un-carved stone in it. Using my newfound skills, I carved a message “Stay with me forever” and gave the engagement ring to my fiancée. Five months later we were wed. One year later, our son was born.
My wife still didn’t know that I was from the future. She wore her ring all the time and it kept reminding me about my parents. I had no clue on how to proceed with my quest. My hopes were almost gone when suddenly Mr. Smith received a mail. It was from his younger brother. His brother had finally managed to find Mr. Smith and hoped to reunite him with the family. This brought me comfort. I asked Mr. Smith if I could travel with him. He agreed. So the five of us (Jake Jr. included) went to meet this brother.
Upon arrival, we rang the doorbell. I nearly spat my stomach on seeing who opened it. It was none other than Mike himself. We were all welcomed in. I stood nervously. The fact that Mike was my relative was no good news to me. But I decided, this Mike would probably not have found my younger self yet and it would be safe to ask him. He had often hinted in the past (no puns intended) that he knew my father. I felt it would be better to speak to him at night.
It was close to midnight. I knocked on his door. He opened it sleepily. Mike, I’d like to have a chat with you. He yawned and signaled me to get lost. But I wasn’t giving up easily. “Listen Mike, I’m from the future. I came here using your time machine”. Now, he was fully awake.
“Who are you and how do you know about my plan to build a time machine?” he asked me five minutes later in the garden. I told him everything, of how he had tortured me as a child to how I had come here. I skipped the part of him dying by the explosion of the time machine. I told him that the machine had gone back successfully and never returned. He bought the story. “So, who’s my father Mike?” I asked. He thought about it for some time.
“Can you show me the ring?” he asked.
“I can’t. I gave it to your brother. But my wife has a replica”
“Well, then bring it.”
“I can’t possibly disturb her now. She’s asleep. And what do I say? ‘Hey Jane, I forgot to mention I’m a time traveler. I need to borrow your ring. Lend it to me.’ What would she think?”
“I’d think you ought to have told this to me long back.” It was my wife. She was carrying my baby. And she looked angry. Really really angry. I looked at Mike. He was looking at her ring. “I’ve figured it out” he grinned.
I looked nervously at Jane. “Well go on. Tell him” she said coldly. “Right. Mike, please tell me. I’m dying to know.” I said.
“Oh yes you are.” He said. He removed a pistol from his pocket and shot me in the chest. I fell bleeding. Jane put down my son and rushed over and tried to pick me up. Mike fired his second shot. By a miracle, the bullet hit the ring on her hand and she survived. She wasn’t so lucky the third shot.
“Well, now you know your father” he said and pocketed the ring. Next he picked up my son. “Not a bad idea using the cliff as a secret lab. Any dying wish?” he laughed. I finally understood. This time it was payback. “Yes,” I coughed “I’d like you to make the buttons on the machine red and green. They’ve been my favorite colors.” “Granted.” he said. I’d been in the machine. I knew he’d keep his promise.
I died knowing I was my own father. He would die, not knowing I was red-green color blind.