After I cracked my head falling into the well, I suffered what the neurosurgeons told me was a subdural hematoma. They had taken me to the operating room and successfully evacuated the blood. So, I was fine except a couple issues: first, my gait was off balance, although the neurologist wasn’t completely certain why; second, and this was perhaps the most troublesome—there was a glaring discrepancy in my “cognition,” as they termed it. I thought the year was 1980, but it was really 2022. Both my arms were sore from being jabbed every day, sometimes several times a day, as the doctors ran so many blood tests on me without finding anything to explain the incongruity.
Working on getting my balance back was only a matter of physical therapy twice a day in the hospital. That problem was resolving and they thought they might be able to discharge me in a few days. It was my psychological state that was more of a challenge and that had everyone scratching their heads over. Dr. Muscat wasn’t the only psychiatrist who had arrived to examine me. Three others came in to render a second, third, and fourth opinion, and all of them left with puzzled looks on their faces. As for me, I had slowly become less mystified about my situation than they were. I’m a logical kind of guy, and logic told me that I had traveled forward in time from 1980 to 2022—as simple as that. Of course, it wasn’t that simple at all. No one had ever documented time travel in the real world. It was the stuff of fiction.
That I had come from a different era was clear from all the amazing inventions I’d never seen before. The “telephone” practically everyone was using was really a kind of tiny “computer,” I guess, called a cellular or mobile telephone. It could perform tasks other than just send and receive calls—like taking photos, showing movies, and playing games. Dr. Muscat, the psychiatrist, told me that one cellular telephone could store a thousandfold more information than the computers that NASA used to send Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon in 1969 when I was nine years old.
I discovered a bunch of other incredible things, like toilets flushing when you moved away from them. Scared the crap out of me. The computers were nothing like what I was familiar with. In 1980, they had just begun to take off, but in the time between then and 2022, they had developed into something out of this world, some of them so slim you could fit them in a briefcase.
Several social workers came through as well to explore my options. One of them, a graying woman with a stern expression, brought a “tablet” with her, which was kind of like the mobile telephone thing but bigger, and when I gave her my address and described what our farm looked like, she went on the tablet and found an area photograph from 1973 that exactly confirmed my account. But then she said, fiercely, “Marcus, you googled this information and now you’re regurgitating it as if you were alive in the 1970s, isn’t that right?”
“I what?” I asked.
“What?” she said, frowning.
“You said I did something . . .”
“No, the other thing.”
“Oh. You googled it.”
She gave me the side eye. “Very funny. Look, everyone is tiptoeing around you asking all these academic questions about if you’re suffering irrevocable brain damage or delusions, but I know what’s going on here. Now, if you want me to help you, you’ve got to quit the charade. Does that make sense?”
“Not really,” I responded.
She sighed in resignation. “All right. What I’m going to do is try to get you into a homeless shelter once you leave the hospital, and I’ll work on your ID and social security number, since you don’t have anything like that with you. Are you sure something didn’t drop out of your pocket in the well?” “The detective said they didn’t find anything.”
She stood up. “Very well. I’ll be back in a couple of days. They can’t release you from the hospital until we’ve firmed up your discharge details.”
Four days earlier
I was watching the clearest-picture television imaginable in my hospital room when Lamar Ferguson walked in. “Good morning, Mr. Price.”
He sat on the chair facing my bed. “I wanted to ask your permission to take a DNA sample.”
“What’s that for?”
“Well, to rule you out as having anything to do with the death of Slate Thomas, the man in the well beside you.”
“I’m a little confused,” I said. “How do you mean?”
“Hard to explain,” Ferguson said, “but suffice it to say that the postmortem suggests there may be foul play involved in his death. So, it would be nice to know that you have nothing to do with it.”
Well, it would, I thought. “Okay, so what do I need to do?”
“It’s just an oral swab,” Ferguson said, holding up a plastic bag. “I take a sample from the inside of your cheeks—no pain involved. All you need to do is open your mouth wide.”
At the week’s staff meeting, Dr. Jeffrey Binomial, the Psychiatry Department head, asked Dr. Muscat to give the group his findings on the puzzle patient, Marcus Price.
“Well,” Muscat said, “he’s rational, intact, has no auditory or visual hallucinations, paranoid thinking, thought disorder, or delusions of grandeur, reference, or persecution. I suppose one could say that his apparent conviction that he is white when he clearly is not is a delusion of bodily change, which we do see in schizophrenics, of course. However, it’s not that he thinks he’s changing in real time from black to white, so that’s completely atypical.”
“He’s obviously delusional,” Dr. John Brotman declared, “and I think we need to start him on a small dose of an antipsychotic and watch for his response in the hospital setting.”
Muscat smoothed back his mop of black hair and frowned. He rarely agreed with Brotman. “I don’t advise that at all,” he said crisply. “In the absence of more symptoms, there’s no place for meds right now.”
“Aaron,” Brotman spluttered, “you just told us the patient thinks the year is 1980. We’ve ruled out any metabolic disorders with about a million blood tests, and you think the patient doesn’t have thought disorder?”
“No,” Muscat said bluntly. He didn’t dislike Brotman, he just didn’t care for him. “The other consideration is—”
“Don’t say it,” Brotman interrupted rudely. “Cerebromorphic Passive Memory Adoption. Not again.”
“Tone it down, John,” Binomial said gently.
“Either CPMA,” Muscat continued, unruffled, “or, as the patient believes, time travel.”
Brotman leaned back and guffawed. “You can’t be serious.”
“I’ll remind you that long before we knew about mental health,” Muscat said icily, “Hippocrates thought yellow bile caused mania. I don’t believe he knew about neurotransmitters. Just because we haven’t discovered time travel yet doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”
“All right, look,” Binomial said with finality, “we obviously can’t arrive at a treatment regimen yet for Mr. Price. Aaron, keep visiting him in-house and when he’s released we’ll see if we can continue to follow him in the outpatient setting.”
The meeting broke, and Muscat returned to his office where his phone rang. It was Detective Ferguson.
“Doctor, have you come up with anything to explain Mr. Price’s strange behavior?”
“I can’t say I have,” Muscat replied. “It’s a work in progress. Has something come up?”
“I’m unable to go into the details,” Ferguson said, “but let’s just say that forensic results have made him a greater person of interest than before.”
“Enough to arrest him?”
“I’m sorry, I can’t disclose that.”
“Very well, Detective. Was there anything else?”
“That’s it, Doc. Thanks.”
After a tasteless hospital dinner, I was dozing off in the bed when I heard my name uttered softly. I opened my eyes. “Oh, hi, Dr. Muscat,” I said, sitting up in some surprise.
“I’m sorry to disturb you, Marcus,” he whispered, moving closer. “Has Detective Marcus been in to see you?”
“He was here a few days ago to get the NDA sample.”
“DNA,” Muscat corrected. “He did an oral swab?”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“You shouldn’t have let him,” Muscat said, “but never mind, it doesn’t matter now. Listen, we need to get you out of here.”
My eyes widened. “What’s going on?”
“I think your DNA matched with something on or around the dead man in the well. That means Ferguson is going to be on your trail because he’s itching to make an arrest. But something’s not making sense here, and I don’t believe you’re guilty of anything. You need to get yourself out of this situation before you’re falsely accused.”
I was panicked. “What should I do?”
“I want you to see someone called Percival Sellers. He’s a time-travel expert who lives outside Happenstance.”
“So you believe me about the time travel?” I gasped.
“I think there’s a good chance you have time-traveled, yes. I’m going to give you Percival’s phone number and . . .” Muscat dug in his pocket. “Take this burner phone--don’t worry about what that means. I’ll show you how to use it to reach Percival. But first, we must get you out of the hospital undetected.”
Muscat produced a plastic bag. “In here are scrubs, a white jacket, surgical mask, and a surgical cap. Go to the bathroom and change into them now. Oh, and there’s a pair of glasses in there as well.”
“Okay, okay,” I said, nervous and confused.
I went to the bathroom and exited transformed. I looked like a doctor. Muscat was arranging the pillows on my bed so that they looked reasonably like me sleeping under the covers.
“I don’t have any shoes, though,” I whispered.
“Shit,” Muscat said, clapping his forehead. “Wait right here.”
He disappeared for couple of minutes and came back with two pieces of blue, fluffy material. “Shoe covers we use in the OR,” he explained briefly, taking off his shoes and handing them to me. “Put these on and I’ll wear the covers. You look good, but you have to appear more self-confident—arrogant, even. Walk beside me and don’t look at anyone. You don’t need to—you’re a doctor. That’s how we behave. Let’s go.”
Muscat switched off the light behind us and I strode beside him with as much authority and aloofness as I could manage.
“Oh, Doctor?” one of the nurses at the station called out.
“Fuck,” Muscat muttered under his breath. “Keep walking.”
He turned to the nurse, who had a brief message for him. He thanked her with a smile, and hurried back to catch up with me. We turned to the right.
“We’re going to take the stairway exit ahead,” Muscat said softly.
As we approached the exit, one of the elevator doors opened and Detective Ferguson came out. He saw us both and my breath caught. I dropped my head and spun around in the opposite as Muscat quicky confronted Ferguson to block his full view of me.
“Detective, I have some news for you,” Muscat said.
“Really? What’s that?”
“Can we talk about it in the lounge?”
Muscat practically pulled Ferguson into one of the family waiting rooms. I turned back and walked quickly to the stairs. Once in the stairway, I began to run down. I had to get to this Percival Sellers guy before Ferguson got to me.