Tales of Time
Richard Di Giacomo
© 2011 Magnifico Publications
This book is dedicated to my father, Dominick, who always encouraged me that I could do anything that I dreamed of doing. Special thanks to Reginald Young and others who encouraged me to write a work of fiction.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to an actual person or persons is purely coincidental.
Table of Contents
The Methuselah Tree 7
Where Have All the Animals Gone? 72
The Re-enactors 79
The President’s Secret Book 106
The Toy Dinosaur 135
The Last Untouched Place on Earth 144
Don’t Trust Anyone Over 30 167
The Last of His Line 187
A Dream Come True 197
A dark future:
Galactic Civilizations 101 218
A bright future:
The New World 231
Edgar had driven by the clock shop a thousand times, but had never gone in. One day, however, his father asked him to find someone to repair an old clock that needed to be fixed before he could sell it. Edgar agreed to help because his father told him he could keep the money from the sale for college. He stopped by the shop during his lunch hour. As he entered the shop, it was if he had entered one of those Dutch houses with the narrow facades that appear to be much larger on the inside than the outside.
The room was crowded with clocks of every size and description. There were stately old grandfather clocks, silly cuckoo clocks, alarm clocks, and even sleek modern models. Edgar approached the cluttered counter at the back of the shop. A kindly looking old man, who looked like he had been chosen by central casting to play the role of a German clockmaker, was busy tearing apart the delicate innards of an intricate cuckoo clock.
Edgar was about to speak when suddenly every clock in the store chimed noon at once. Bong! Ding! Cuckoo, Cuckoo! The cacophony was deafening.
After the din had quieted down, Edgar said to the shopkeeper, “Boy, that noise must drive you crazy!”
“You get used to it in time,” the old man said. “Can I help you?”
“Yes, I was wondering what I could get for this old clock,” Edgar replied.
“Did you want to fix it or sell it?” asked the shopkeeper.
“That depends,” answered Edgar. “Is it worth fixing?”
“Well, let me take a look at it,” the old man requested. Turning it around in his hands and examining it with a discerning eye, the old man finally said, “Hmmm. Looks pretty beat up.”
“Is it worth anything?” queried Edgar.
“Well, if you fix it up to look like that one over there,” said the old man, pointing to a gleaming clock which had been masterfully restored, “it might bring $200, but the repairs would cost you a pretty penny.” Edgar found it hard to imagine that his battered old clock with faded and peeling paint had once looked like that.
“Could you buy it off of me for spare parts?” offered Edgar.
“Why sure,” said the grandfatherly shopkeeper with a wink. “Anything old has some value. I’ll give you $20 for it.”
“OK, that’s better than nothing, I suppose,” he replied disappointedly. He had hoped for a lot more.
“I guess its time is up,” he noted, not realizing he had made an unintentional pun.
“Done,” said the old man. “Let me write you up.”
As he filled out the paperwork, Edgar glanced around the room. Every clock had been restored to perfection and there was not a speck of dust anywhere.
“Wow, you do amazing work!” complimented Edgar.
“Thanks, I like to think that it’s time well spent,” said the old man, hoping the young man would pick up on the thread of his pun as he got out the cash to give to Edgar.
“Ah,” Edgar said, catching on at last, “I guess you could say time is of the essence here.”
“That’s it, on the dot,” chuckled the old man.
“What is that giant clock over there?” asked Edgar, pointing to an ornate, heavy clock that looked far too big to have been in a home.
“Why, that is the old school house clock. I salvaged it when it burned down in 1948. It was already 50 years old then.”
“They just gave it to you?” Edgar asked incredulously.
“Yep, I guess they thought I just had too much time on my hands,” said the old craftsman with a grin.
“This is an amazing place,” Edgar stated, looking from clock to clock.
“Every one of these clocks has a story,” the old man commented.
Edgar replied eagerly, “I love a good story, and I’m kind of a history buff, too.”
“Time is an interesting thing, young man. Someone like yourself is, no doubt, always thinking of the future. Someone my age thinks mostly about the days gone by.”
“What about the rest of the people?” asked Edgar perceptively. The clockmaker looked at him appreciatively and surmised, “They are too caught up in the present to appreciate either one.”
Looking at the college student in a whole new light, he said, “Well, I tell you what, young man. If you bring me some more clock parts, I’ll pay you for them and tell you a new story every time you come in here.”
“Sounds like a timely offer!” quipped Edgar.
Over the next few weeks, he scoured every garage sale, salvage yard, and pawn store in town for old broken clocks that he thought the clock store could use. Then, as he got a better idea of what the old man needed over the next few months, he looked around at auctions, estate sales, and online listings for parts for the generous old man.
Soon, he had earned enough money to pay for his textbooks through the first two years of college and had amassed enough tales of time that he decided to write them all down in a book and share them with others. These are those stories.
The Methuselah Tree
They call me Methuselah. However, if the man in the Bible were compared to one of us, his death would have seemed like that of the untimely passing of a tragic youth. My brothers and I have lived on this mountain for longer than all of the lifetimes of the other creatures around us put together. My father was born when the last of the glaciers melted away and the hills began to rise. My mother used to tell me of hearing the last silent, padding footprints of the saber tooth cat as he stalked his lonely prey. I was born from a pine cone that had lain on the ground for hundreds of years before I began to grow from its seed. My cousin has lain next to me, undisturbed for centuries, looking the same as the day he died. This white rocky mountain was created just for me and my kind. I live in a land of extremes. To the west, I can see up to the highest peaks of the mountains, where eternal snows prevent anything from taking root. To the east, I can see down to the lowest elevation on this continent, to a harsh, forbidding land where little can grow, due to the scorching heat.
I have outlived all challengers who have tried to grow in my soil. They are like ephemeral wildflowers compared to me. They come and they go in their pathetically short life spans. Inevitably, they succumb to the harsh conditions of my barren mountaintop. I do not dread the occasional fires started by lightning, because we trees do not grow close enough together to spread the flames. I scoff at the insects and diseases that would want to devour me, because they will find it too hard to penetrate my wood. Unlike my distant cousins, the redwoods, I cannot be blown over by the winds or undermined at the roots. I have survived excruciatingly long droughts that have forced me to almost stop growing altogether, but somehow, I managed to eke out a living until, at last, the droughts too had passed, and I was still here.
I am patience itself. I can grow so slowly that it appears that I am barely alive. I can endure what no other life form can even imagine. Snows, winds, extremes of hot and cold, and thirst mean nothing to me. I live on. Time itself is measured by my growth rings. Others laugh at me. “Look, daddy,” says a little girl. “It looks like it’s already dead.”
“What an ugly thing; so twisted and gnarled!” exclaims a man who is considered to be old by the puny measure of humans years. “It’s as if a piece of driftwood fell here and took root,” he says disdainfully. But I will have the last laugh. I will still be here along after they are gone.
I first began to see these humans appear many years ago, but they were much fewer in number and dressed in simple hides. An occasional hunter would pass through my grove, stalking an exhausted and desiccated animal he wished to make his prey. Neither of them would stay for very long and little was changed by their passing.
Only a few winters ago, a solitary man dressed in pants and a shirt visited the grove and befriended us. We chuckled inwardly at his claim of having “discovered” us, but we were too polite to correct him on it. He walked among us again and again until he had learned our ways. He measured and examined us, gave us strange names, tested our soil and our needles. We even consented to his request to take small samples from us, painful as that was, because we knew that he was here to help us.
The countless others that followed him soon after, however, have not always been as kind as he. They come here on the thin line of flat rock that winds up from the distant valley. Their noisy vehicles disturb my solitude and spread noxious gasses into my pure, thin air. They trample the ground at my roots and shower me with dust from the endless pounding of feet upon their trails. They thoughtlessly leave ugly and unfamiliar objects behind them on the ground. Strange and bitter substances now fall in the rain and the snow.
For the first time, I have known fear. Might I be mortal after all? An unthinking vandal may cruelly decide to carve his initials into me, causing me damage that would take eons to heal. Some careless smoker might cast a burning cigarette at my roots, and I would watch helplessly as it slowly smoldered and then burst into flame. In a few fleeting moments, it would consume the dry, twisting branches that I took centuries to grow.
I have withstood everything that has been thrown at me since before the time that humans built their pyramids. Will I survive these humans as well?
“O city, city, head of all cities! O city, city, center of all four quarters of the world! O city, city, pride of the Christians and ruin of the barbarians! …Where is thy beauty, O, paradise?”
Michael Ducas, Historia Byzantina
Underwater archeology had been advancing at a slow, but steady pace for centuries. At first, most of the activities were merely salvage operations of shipwrecks in shallow coastal waters. Then, with the invention of sonar and diving equipment in the 20th century, more and more items were recovered from lost ships.
When adventurers like Robert Ballard starting using small submersibles with robotic cameras and manipulative arms, it became possible to find and recover wrecks from deeper and deeper waters. This led to the discovery and detailed mapping of famous and spectacular shipwrecks, such as the Titanic, the Bismarck, the Lusitania, and other famous vessels.
The historical significance of these famous ships guaranteed a big payoff, due to filming rights, book deals, and the sale of the objects recovered. It made the enormous cost of these operations worthwhile because, as with treasure hunters, a big profit could still be made with a little luck and a lot of hard work.
However, for every one of these famous ships found, there were thousands of others that were lesser known, or even nameless, still lying in the murky depths undisturbed. Military transports, merchant marine vessels, and ordinary passenger shipwrecks contained the humble and all-but-forgotten remains of countless people whose deaths were unsung, but no less tragic than those of the Titanic and other famous ships. These mundane vessels were skipped over by the treasure hunters and adventure seekers because they were not considered cost effective to salvage.
In the mid-21st century, however, everything changed when Turk Harkin invented the DJL 500 satellite. Most people assumed that the acronym stood for something highly technical, but his engineering team thought that it would be cute to name the satellite after Davy Jones’s Locker. That was in keeping with the rich financier’s quirky personality. Turk liked the hidden pun in the DJL part of the name. He preferred to use a cryptic name, since he felt that it might appear too boastful to name it after himself.
The new satellite allowed scientists to see the sea floor as plainly as if the water were not there at all. When Turk’s specialists looked at the readout screen from the satellite’s downlink, it looked as if the sea were a giant bathtub that had had the plug pulled on it by some unknown titan. All the shipwrecks that had ever happened were lying in plain view, like a child’s toys left behind at the bottom of the tub after a bath.
The technology behind the satellite was deceptively simple. It was based upon the same principals as spectral analysis in astronomy. The satellite saw the chemical makeup of the earth’s surface. From the totality of the surface images of the earth, the supercomputers painstakingly erased the water, revealing the bottom of the sea in true and exact detail for the first time.
The enormous cost of this procedure lay in the processing time for the computers to sort out the data. Turk’s technicians calculated that to carefully plot all of the seven seas would take a century, and his accountants estimated that the cost would make the US space program seem like a 6th grade science project.
This, of course, led to some difficulty for Turk when he tried to convince the other investors of the worth of this project. They were skeptical, to say the least, and though Harkin was a very wealthy man, no one person could pay for it all by himself. They demanded that he first test the satellite in a controlled area with defined borders, such as a lake. After a great deal of arguing, the team finally settled on Lake Tahoe as their test area, due to the long standing mystery of its great depth.
The results that they found were shocking and amazing, but they led to a bitter controversy. It soon became apparent that any attempt to exploit their findings commercially would be impossible, due to endless regulations and lawsuits.
As they promised, the team finally found the bottom of Lake Tahoe, but no one was more surprised than Turk with what they found hiding down there. It was the Mother Lode that had been sought for so desperately during the California Gold Rush. Well, at least that explains why the 49’ers never found it! thought Turk.
There were a few rich eccentrics who proposed that Harkins’s company drain the lake dry to get at the fabulous fortune in gold. They even tried to persuade people by claiming that a side benefit of the project would be that they could irrigate half of Nevada with the water. They tried to convince people that they could extract all of the gold before the lake eventually refilled itself naturally from snowmelt, but the environmentalists would have none of it.
In a meeting with his publicists and lawyers, Turk was told that this thing could get ugly soon. One advisor warned, “You watch, Mr. Harkin, they will make this bigger than the ‘Save Mono Lake’ and ‘Keep Tahoe Blue’ campaigns combined. They will compare this to the loss of Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite or the tremendous damage caused by the hydraulic mining in the Gold Rush days.”
“They will paint you as a robber baron who wants to ravage the environment. Our corporate image can’t take that kind of beating, sir,” said another.
Reluctantly, and filled with regret, Turk decided to give up on the project, and like much of California’s offshore oil, to leave it unexploited for the sake of the environment.
However, now that it had been proven that the technology worked, the team reconvened, and many other search sites were proposed. Some argued for finding Amelia Earhart’s airplane, others advocated locating the many missing planes and ships in the Bermuda Triangle. Still others wanted to look for the lost ships of explorers such as Ferdinand Magellan or John Cabot.
In the end, each of these proposals was ruled out because they had too wide of a search area to be economically feasible. It was decided that, in order to prove the profitability of the venture, they must first concentrate on a narrow body of water that had as high a concentration of shipwrecks as possible.
The natural hunting ground seemed to be the Mediterranean Sea. Many wrecks had been found there in the past, and doubtless many others remained to be discovered there. The team finally narrowed down the search zone to the Bosporus. It seemed that it would be easy to find a wreck in a place where many ships had crossed such a narrow strait.
Over the centuries, many of them must have gone down and were just lying there waiting to be discovered. That was how Turk and his team came across their history-making discovery of a Byzantine trireme with its famous cargo.
. . .
Alex had always been proud of his Greek heritage. His ancestors had to flee persecution by the Ottoman Empire when they had driven the Greeks of Asia Minor from their homes in the early years of the 20th century. His grandfather still muttered about how the Greeks had been in Asia Minor for far longer than the Turks and that it was their rightful home. “We were there first! Hello? We named the place,” he said. “We were civilized when those Turkish barbarians were still learning how to ride their horses back in Central Asia. Look how many scenes of the Bible took place in Asia Minor. It is a tragedy to have those Turks living in lands that were once Christian,” said Grandpa.
“Now, Pappou,” said Alex, “We have forgiven them. That was a long time ago. They paid reparations to the victims and they have been allies with us for a long time now.”
“Bah!” said his grandfather. “I will never forgive them! 1453! 1453! What does that date mean to you?”
Alex knew full well what it meant, because he had heard this rant countless times before. Nonetheless, he sighed and gave the expected answer,
“It was the year that Constantinople fell, Pappou.”
“Oh, you make it sound so nice and sanitary,” Grandpa said with bitter sarcasm. “It didn’t just fall. They massacred us! They herded us into the Hagia Sophia and mowed us down, women and children alike! Do you have any idea how many important books and cultural treasures were destroyed when the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire fell?”
“I know, Grandpa, but it was so long ago; and besides, there have been Christian atrocities against Muslims, like the ones committed during the Crusades,” declared Alex.
“That’s different. Besides, they did it to us, too,” Grandpa exclaimed in disgust.
“ I cannot forget the Fall of Constantinople. It was the greatest tragedy of history- half of the Roman Christian world lost to those infidels and then they destroyed the greatest city in the civilized world. Every time I see that poster there in your office, I just want to tear down those minarets defiling the sacred Hagia Sophia. How dare they turn it into a mosque? The Fall of Constantinople must be avenged!”
Finally, Alex gave up and walked away, dismissing his grandfather’s latest outburst as the crazed ranting of a confused old man. He was tired of the same old argument and never wanted to hear it again.
That all changed, however, when he met Ioanna. She was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. She had curly black hair like most Greek girls. Alex thought it was kind of silly when Hollywood went out of its way to portray Greeks as blonde. He could count on one hand the number of blonde Greeks he had met in his lifetime.
Her eyes were as deep and dark as the Mediterranean on a warm, summer’s night. He soon found himself gratefully drowning in them. She had a figure that left nothing to argument, and her mind was as sharp as a tack. She was a faithful churchgoer and very family-oriented. Momma would be proud, Alex thought to himself.
He found himself irresistibly attracted to her, despite his pledge to remain a lifetime bachelor. He went on a series of dates with her. Each invitation to the next date came from his lips sooner than the last. His mind sat back in disengaged disbelief at how quickly things developed. The only drawback to her that he could see was that she seemed obsessed with Greek history, just like his grandfather.
She was an archeologist and she gave tours of the ruins of Constantinople to tourists to earn extra money in between digs. She knew every inch of the Hagia Sophia, and could tell you which parts were the original Byzantine features and which were Turkish additions. She could point out how the Christian elements of the church had been covered up when it became a mosque. She exclaimed, “Oh, how I wish I could have seen the Hagia Sophia in all of its former glory. What a jewel it must have been.”
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Time travel, immortality, alternate history, and more! Fascinating tales from the past, the present, and the future. Examining the intriguing aspects of the nature of time, these stories include: Seeing the world through the eyes of ancient tree that remains unchanged on its lonely mountaintop as the centuries come and go. Adventurers who try to go back and change history to save a glorious ancient city that they love. A Native American who comes back to life and wonders what has become of the world that he once knew. A Civil War re-enactor who wishes he could go back to see the real events so badly, he can almost taste it. Rumors abound about a book of secrets that has been passed on from president to president. Can they be true? A curious boy who is so obsessed with dinosaurs that he wishes he could walk among them. A lonely modern explorer who goes on a quest to find the last place on earth to remain untouched by humans. An aging hippie who wrestles with the question: Did he change the world or did it change him? A retired military man whom after doing some family history research is saddened by the realization that he is the last of his line. A young Italian college student is tormented by the enigma of his strange dreams. What could they telling him about himself and the nature of time and existence? In a dark, possible future, alien students view the Earth as an object lesson of how not to run a civilization. In a hopeful, alternate future, America is re-energized by a new age of discovery in space. These thought-provoking stories will capture your imagination and leave you talking about them for days.