A winning idea and start of a new novel!
Call him Huck.
That’s not bad when you consider the possible alternative. His parents were both academicians, American and English Literature respectively. With a name like, Huckleberry Byron Waldo Whitman, his young life was somewhat of a challenge. Now, challenge is what he thrives on; it guides his thinking, feeds his imagination and energizes his ambitions.
Naturally, it was the hopes and dreams of his parents that he would follow them into the academic world. They didn’t count on him having a rebellious streak in his genetic make-up. Consequently, his path was totally opposite of what they wanted.
West Point Military Academy was his alma-mater. After graduating West Point he spent nine years on active duty with the Army Special Operation Forces. When he was reassigned to staff duty and passed over for battalion command - in favor of some political officers whose accomplishments were far below his own achievements - he resigned his commission and returned to the civilian environment.
By that time he had completed a Master’s Degree in French and he already spoke fluent German, Italian, and Arabic, and was familiar with Spanish, Russian, and Greek. He had also studied Latin and Ancient Greek at West Point. He returned to college and chose the field of Philology.
For those who do not know what Philology is it is the study of language in written historical sources and is a combination of literary studies, history and linguistics. It is more commonly defined as the study of literary texts and records to establish their authenticity, origin, and meaning.
As a philologist his basic job was to read some crusty old writing, written on paper, metal, clay, or engraved on stone, and translate its meaning and possibly who wrote it. He already loved history, so this field is right down his alley. His parents would be proud of him. After six years of intensive study, he finally obtained his Doctorate.
Although his field required extensive research and study, it also demanded a considerable amount of field-work and travel. That’s the part of the job he loved the most. Consequently, he has traveled around the world to assist in deciphering old writings at the behest of many archeologist and other professional colleagues.
He was on a trip just recently to assist a friend. The trip took him to Orleans, France. He was no stranger to France. He had made several personal trips to Paris, and he worked with the French Foreign Legion (Légion étrangère), when he was in the Special Forces. After his friend presented him with an enigma concerning Joan of Arc, but refused to allow him to continue to learn about the enigma, he decided to move on to his next assignment.
Huck was standing in the Port of Southampton taking photos with a new super digital camera he had recently purchased from a pawnshop in London. Having left for London in a hurry, he forgot to pack his own camera. The proprietor told him that the camera was a steal; literally… for a mere 200 pounds. He knew for a fact that it was worth at least 1,600 pounds and figured there was something wrong with it. He took a score of photos around the pawnshop and they all came out perfect, so he bought the beautiful camera.
Huck was on his way to Rome by way of London and Paris and figured he’d stop in Southampton since he had never had the opportunity to explore that area of England before. He had just taken a photo of the docks from where the Titanic left on her maiden voyage. On April 10th 1912 the Titanic set sail from Southampton with 2,200 passengers and crew and four days later the unsinkable liner collided with an iceberg, 1500 people died and 700 survived.
When he took the photo, the view from his camera was of an empty harbor, except for a few small fishing boats and pleasure craft. The one stored on the digital readout that he was now looking at, was... it had to be... the Titanic, departing for her maiden voyage. He had seen enough photos of the famous luxury liner to know that this ship was identical in design and size. Although the name on the bow of the enormous vessel was too far away to read… it had to be the Titanic.
Huck asked several people standing on the dock to take a look at the image he had just taken. They all smiled and told him it was a beautiful ship, then asked him where he had taken it? When he told them he had taken it a just few moments before in this same harbor, they quickly walked away, their faces a mixture of anger and pity.
Just a quirk, Huck told himself. Perhaps the owner of the pawnshop had taken a photo of a photo and somehow it got stored and simply wasn’t showing up on his camera listing. He thought no more of it as he had to catch the train for Paris. He would be pushing for time as it was.
Huck loved Paris. He had also spent four years as a student there and learned to speak excellent French. He loved the culture, the art and the very essence of the city. One of his favorite places was along the West Bank looking across the Seine at Notre Dame de Paris. He took the opportunity to revisit his old haunts and take some photos for keepsakes.
Huck took several photos in a row… Flash! Flash! Flash! Then he checked to see how they looked on the digital display. Once again, he was completely dumbfounded.
The first photo displayed a pristine Roman Temple with white marble columns. He knew that at one time there was a Roman temple to their god Jupiter on that particular spot. Had his camera captured the past, as it had seemingly captured the sailing of the Titanic?
The second photo was of a small but well build basilica. Before Notre Dame and after the Roman temple was destroyed, Paris’ first Christian church, Saint Etienne Basilica, stood on this spot. His mind was racing!
The third photo was of Notre Dame, but not the Notre Dame we know today. Construction on Notre Dame began in 1163 during the reign of Louis VII. It was completed in 1345. In this photo the towers were still being built.
Did this camera record history in the past? Impossible! But, he had the photos stored in digital format to prove it.
Huck was a bit shaken at this point. Was the camera haunted or was he hallucinating? Maybe he had told too many stories about reincarnation, a subject he firmly believed in it. Maybe an angry God was punishing him, twisting his mind for some reason.
He left Paris that same night for Rome on the overnight express. He wanted to be at the Roman Forum by noon the next day to talk with a fellow archeologist who was uncovering a burial dig about twenty miles outside Rome. He had told Huck he was very excited about the find and was certain it was an early Christian burial site from around the 4th Century CE.
Huck arrived in Rome early and had breakfast in the Roma Termini station, named after the ancient Baths of the Emperor Diocletian, and then made his way on the Metropolitana subway to the Forum Romanum. His friend John Carney had called and said he was delayed and asked Huck to meet him at the dig site later in the day.
When he entered the forum his breath was again taken away. He felt at home. Huck had spent hundreds of hours drawing and studying the layout of the forum for his thesis. He loved history and Roman history was at the very heart of his love. His passion about all things Roman was well known in archeological circles.
While sitting on a ledge looking towards the Senate building, a chilling thought came to his mind. Did he dare? If I take a photo of the entrance to the Senate building with my paranormal camera, what will I get? There’s only one way to find out.
Huck rushed from his perch and down into the street rushing for the Senate building located between the Palatine hill and the Capitoline hill. As he entered the area of the Curia Julia, the site of the Roman Senate, his heart began to beat stronger and stronger. Do I dare? He asked himself again?
As he entered the site of the ancient Roman Senate, historical data flooded into Huck's memory: As he took his seat, the conspirators gathered about him as if to pay their respects, and straightway, Tillius Cimber, who had assumed the lead, came nearer as though to ask something. When Caesar with a gesture put him off to another time, Cimber caught his toga by both shoulders. As Caesar cried, 'Why, this is violence!' Then one of the Cascas stabbed him from one side just below the throat.
Caesar caught Casca's arm and ran it through with his stylus, but as he tried to leap to his feet, he was stopped by another wound. When he saw that he was beset on every side by drawn daggers, he muffled his head in his robe, and at the same time drew down its lap to his feet with his left hand, in order to fall more decently, with the lower part of his body also covered. And in this wise he was stabbed with three and twenty wounds, uttering not a word, but merely a groan at the first stroke, though some have written that when Marcus Brutus rushed at him, he said in Greek, 'You too, Brutus?'
Huck pulled the camera out and took three photos in rapid succession. The flashes were like blinding explosions from enemy artillery. He was shaking and nervous as he turned the camera around and hit the review button.
The first photo was of a grassy swamp. That was ominous; the area was a swampland before the Romans drained it so the population could expand.
The second photo was of the Roman Senate in session. It appeared they were discussing a matter of some importance. He could see a Roman military officer standing to the left. Based on the design and composition of the uniform it could have been Gaius Claudius Glaber, a Roman Praetor in 73 BCE, who went after Spartacus or any number of important figures at that particular time in history.
The third photo was also disappointing. All it depicted was a shot of the Senate house in a ruined state, perhaps several hundred years ago before it was cleaned up and restored for modern tourists.
Huck thought about trying more exposures, but figured he’d be wasting his time. He left the Senate building and headed in the direction of a car rental place near the Metropolitana. John would be waiting for him and he needed to be on his way.
He stopped suddenly! Another thought crossed his mind. He remembered that Caesar was not killed at the senate, but near a room in the east portico of the Theater of Pompey. He was told by the assassins that the Senate was to meet there instead of the senate house that fateful day. Huck rushed to the spot.
What about video? He thought. Most digital cameras, expensive ones in particular, took video as well as single shots. What would happen if I filmed the steps to the Theater of Pompey? His hands were shaking and his mind was racing. Huck set his watch on a marble slab so he could see the second hand for one minute of filming. He noticed that when he was taking photos the scene remained the same. That is, it did not change until he looked at the digital printout.
Huck took several deep breaths and then steadied the camera against a stone pillar. He turned it on and strained to control his breathing. Actually, he wasn’t sure if he even took a breath the entire time the camera was running. After one minute he stopped the camera.
The moment of truth was at hand! What had he captured on his paranormal camera? He turned the digital display on and the scene started to unravel.
Huck was shocked! For one full minute he watched the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar as it had happened in real history. He was shaking so badly after viewing the incredible scene he had to sit down on a broken pillar of marble to steady himself. Sweat was pouring from his brow and down the crack of his back.
Somehow he had purchased a camera, a paranormal camera that took photos and videos of things and events that happened in the past. It was an archeologist’s dream come true.
There was something about that second photo. He couldn’t get it out of his mind. Huck hit the readout and looked at the photo again, then again, and yet again. It suddenly hit him! He was shocked. He was shaking! The Roman military figure was him. It was his face.
The camera was not just taking photos of the past; it was taking scenes that he had witnessed before. Scenes he had witnessed in person during different lives. It was taking photos of his dead memories.
“This is impossible!” He said out loud, falling to his knees on the hard marble.
Huck was still in a state of shock as he approached the camp of his friend John Carney. The dig was located on a small hill that overlooked a farmer’s freshly plowed fields. The other side of the hill meandered down to a slow moving stream bordering a thick grove of olive trees.
Parking the rented Fiat in a lot with half a dozen other muddy vehicles, Huck picked up his camera bag and headed up a muddy path leading to the tents located about half way up the small hill. His friend John spotted him and waved a hand in greeting as he walked into the camp.
"Yo Bro," John stated, as Huck stumbled into camp. John Carney was Irish American by birth but a full blown Roman by heart. He and Huck had studied together on their Doctoral thesis in Rome and worked several sites together in different parts of the old Roman Empire. "You look like you’ve seen a ghost¹" John remarked, noticing the unusual look on Huck’s face as they shook hands.
Huck and John were about the same age, in their late 30’s. Neither had married, preferring to relegate their existence to the fields of archeology and philology. They both agreed that a family would severely curtail their ability to spend weeks, months, and even years on an important dig. Their work kept them in prime physical condition and by choice they often accepted positions that would allow them work together when possible.
The dig John was working on was scheduled to be a short time affair. He’d been asked by a peer, whose specialty was paleontology, to assist him in dating several artifacts uncovered by the local farmer while plowing his field. He was certain they were 4th or 5th Century CE relics and knew that period was John¹s specialty. After John finished here they were both scheduled to head for a very big job in Britain for the Smithsonian.
"I’ve got something to show you," Huck glanced around. He and John were the only two at the camp. Several men were at the dig site about fifty yards up the side of the hill, and a few were bent over in the farmer’s field below. Huck pulled his camera from the bag slung over his shoulder and nervously held it out so John could see the facing.
"I bought this camera in a pawn shop in London," Huck explained. "In route here I took photos at Southampton, in Paris and in the Forum Romanum. I also took a one minute video in the Roman Senate House. I want you to see the results." He nervously handed the camera to John.
With a curious expression on his weathered face, John quickly clicked through the photos on the digital readout. He looked up at Huck with an expression of wonder on his face. "Look at the video," Huck quickly blurted.
John started playing the video. As soon as it was finished he looked up at Huck with a broad smile. "Great joke Huckelberry," he grinned. "I owe you one for this." His smile faded when he looked into Huck’s eyes. "It’s no joke," he blurted. "You’re serious about this aren’t you?"
"Dead serious," Huck replied with a haunting look. "Look closely at the faces in the photos." Once again John went through the photos one at a time then the video twice over. A look of alarm suddenly spread across his Irish features. "You’re in some of the photos and standing in the background in the video," he stated, looking closely at Huck again. "I don’t understand."
"Neither do I," Huck replied. "Somehow this camera captures the past. Not only that, it seems to capture my past, or my past lives, or at least part of it."
"Have you down-loaded these photos onto a computer?" John asked. At the negative shake of Huck’s head, John walked over to his laptop computer and reached back for the cord to down-load the camera. He didn’t know if the hook-up would work with his program, but it did. The photos and video came out sharp and clear on the computer screen. John zoomed in on the clear figure standing in one of the photos, enlarging it so it would stand out.
"It’s you or someone who looks exactly like you." John pointed at the Roman Tribune standing in the senate forum. "The trappings of his uniform would date this to around the First Century BCE."
"Meaning I was either alive during that time or there’s someone in history that is my identical twin," Huck stated. "Look at the man standing in the background while Caesar was being assassinated and the man standing off to the side in one of those photos of Notre Dame?" Once again as each photo was brought up, Huck’s face appeared.
John looked at his friend in fear and awe then back at the computer screen. "There’s got to be a logical explanation," he stated. "I don’t believe in reincarnation and I certainly don’t believe in paranormal magic. Are you sure this isn’t some elaborate hoax created by that pawn shop owner?"
"Never met the man before," Huck replied. "I’ve never been in that pawn shop before either. The only reason I was there was because I forgot my camera in my rush to catch the plane to London. There’s no way the man could have known that I would be in his shop or even looking to buy a camera. Hell! I didn’t even know I was going to buy a damn camera. Impossible!"
"There must be a logical explanation." John picked up the camera and turned it around to look at from all sides. The camera appeared to be a typical digital camera, an expensive one at that. "Do you mind," John asked, pointing towards the dig site. "Let’s see what this thing does when we take a photo of the hill."
John walked a few feet to his left so that the corner of a tent did not interfere with his aim and clicked the camera. He clicked again and captured one of the workers just bending up to stretch the soreness out of his back. Walking back over to Huck, he nervously hit the button so they could both view the photo.
The photo displayed the same hill only hundreds of years ago. A short line of people dressed in ancient Roman garb were carrying a body wrapped in linen on a stretcher up the hill. Two Roman Legionnaires stood off to the right side watching the procession as it ascended the incline. One of the soldiers, a Decurion by his uniform, was looking back at the camera. It was John.
John turned a bright shade of white when he recognized his face on the Roman Officer. He handed the camera to Huck and quickly picked up a bottle half full of wine. He drained the rest of the bottle in rapid gulps and threw the empty into the muddy grass.
"Impossible!" he blurted, looking at the camera as if it was a poisonous snake or deadly insect. "Impossible!"
Huck looked closely at the inscription on the casket being carried to the gravesite. His eyes lit up as he turned to John. “The inscription reads, Marcus Nonius Macrinus. I think you’ve discovered the grave of Marcus Aurelius’ General, the Consul portrayed in that movie, Gladiator.”
"The second photo looks normal," Huck stated, dismissing his previous statement. The second photo showed the hillside as it was with the worker standing at the dig bending his back to get rid of the soreness. John quickly loaded the two shots into the computer and enlarged the face of the worker.
"That’s Giovanni," John stated with a smile, pointing at the photo. "He’s a local worker who’s been helping around here with the dirt work." He sounded relieved.
"So the camera does take normal photos," Huck said, watching as Giovanni headed down the hill for a break. "What would happen if I deleted the photos? Do you think the camera would start acting normal then? No more historical magic?"
John shrugged his shoulders indicating he wasn’t sure what would happen. Giovanni entered the campsite with a big grin on his broad face, his balding scalp shining with beads of sweat.
Huck hit the delete button on the camera to erase the last photo taken. He didn’t want to mess with the other snap shots as they were far too valuable. As soon as the button was pushed… Giovanni disappeared.
"What the hell!" John yelled, jumping up from the cooler he had been sitting on. One second he was reaching out to hand a cool towel to Giovanni to wipe the sweat from his face, the next, Giovanni disappeared. Startled by the unexpected yell, Huck almost dropped the camera.
"Where did he go? What did you do?" John was looking around wide eyed. "Where’s Giovanni?
"I don’t know," Huck answered, suspiciously looking at the camera. "I deleted him from the camera and he simply disappeared." They both looked at the camera in revulsion and fear. After several moments of silence John got up the nerve to say, "You don’t think…?” He left the question unfinished.
"Can your computer return the photo back to the camera?" Huck finally asked, nervously passing the camera to John. John took the camera, holding it carefully away from him as if it would bite him, and walked over to the computer. He plugged the camera in and hit a few of the program buttons. After a minute he checked to see if the photo of Giovanni was booted back into the camera.
Suddenly, Giovanni stood in the exact same spot from which he had earlier disappeared, with a quizzical look on his face. "I think you were handing a towel to me," Giovanni slowly stated. "Then you not there, and then you in a different place. I think maybe I stop for the day, the sun it get to me I think!" The man turned and headed down the hill towards his home, a puzzled expression on his sweating face.
They looked at each other in silence for a long time. Finally, Huck got the nerve to speak. "If we erase the photos on the camera will it erase the history it captured?"
"However, if we have a copy of the photo on backup, can we reinstate history?" John answered. They both looked at the camera with a renewed sense of suspicion and fear.
Another thought occurred to Huck. "Supposing you took your own photo, and using photo shop or some similar program, incorporated it into a photo from the past and reinserted it into the camera. Would you be transported back to the past?"
"Using that camera a person could possibly go back and change history," John stated.
"Or, an assassin could have a field day," Huck finished. "Next question; what happens if the camera is destroyed? Does the history already captured on it disappear? Does Caesar live? Does Giovanni disappear forever?"
"We may never know!" A voice answered from one of the tents. "A man emerged from the shaded interior of the closest tent. He was very tall, sandy red hair, in his 40s’ and wore a neatly trimmed red beard. They both looked at him with startled expressions as he walked up to them.
"Doctor Dennis Riche," the man said, offering his hand to Huck. "Call me Denny.”
"This is Riche’s dig," John blurted out, unaware that the paleontologist had been in the camp all along.
Huck shook the man’s hand as he continued. "I was taking a rest from the heat," he offered in explanation to John. Huck did not like the look in the man’s eyes and his demeanor instilled an instant distrust. "I accidentally overheard your conversation," Denny looked eagerly at the camera sitting next to the computer. "Does it really work?"
"Yes," Huck stated, "it works."
Denny picked up the camera and took a close look at it. He intentionally snapped a shot of Huck and John. “Sorry, he stated with a smile. “Didn’t know I had my finger on the trigger.”
"But, we need to find a good place to bury it," John cut in. "That thing is deadly. It needs to be hidden away so no one will ever find it."
"Think of all the historical truth we could uncover," Denny replied in a dismissive tone. "All the lost knowledge throughout the centuries, the secrets of lost civilizations, the fate of empires!"
"Think of all the history that can be lost and people murdered," Huck said. "That thing may have the power to change any part of mankind’s past. It could wipe out kings, kill emperors, destroy mighty armies, assassinate great heroes, even change the destiny of any person. Change the history of the world!"
"It could also make a person rich beyond their wildest dreams," Denny grinned. "Think of all the lost treasures throughout history, the billions in gold and jewels, the trillions in art and literature."
"A person with that kind of power could blackmail nations and make himself king of the world." Huck noticed the unconcealed greed in Doctor Riche’s eyes.
"You’re right, it would take a man of exceptionally high moral caliber to withstand the temptations that camera holds," Denny replied. "It must be hidden or destroyed."
Huck didn’t accept his sudden reversal of thought. The man was obviously thinking of a way to get the camera into his possession. He realized the danger the camera presented if it fell into the wrong hands. His instincts told him not to trust the man.
“Tomorrow we will open the tomb,” Doctor Riche stated. “You can secure the camera in the safe where I keep the precious specimens we’ve thus far collected. That will give you time to decide what to do with it.”