A man watches two young boys at a carnival.
| He watches them from the across the carnival. Children run to and fro, while parents try to keep up with them. Various rides are running while people scream and laugh over the sound of the machinery. It is June, so the sun is shining, but the chill of spring is still in the air. East coast spring usually means snowstorms.
He has been watching their excursions for awhile now.
The two boys run to the next ride, ahead of their mother and aunt. They show their bright orange bracelets to the carnival worker. The bearded, unkempt, man unlocks the chain for them. They run and jump in a cart on the red and white Tilt-A-Whirl.
They were five and eight that year. Ryder would be turning nine in August. He grasps his brother’s hand as the ride begins. Chase squeals as the cart picks up speed, they huddle closer, laughing.
The mother and aunt aren’t far behind. They catch up and stand outside the small metal gate. The mother waves to the boys as the aunt snaps pictures. She had always taken the photographs, but had barely been in them. Her meticulous photos had helped him track their movements. They had always been dated and time stamped. It wasn’t difficult to discover their location.
Chase is all smiles, his blonde hair blowing in the wind as the cart spins. Ryder laughs as he watches him. He is protective of his younger brother, even though he likes to pick on him. The ride comes to an end, but they wait for the carnival worker to lift the bar on the cart before stepping out. They run to the exit where Denise and Danielle are waiting.
Denise ruffles Ryder’s brown curls as they walk to the next ride. Chase is talking non-stop. He is missing a front tooth. He can see that from where he stands, so he knows he is getting too close.
He had spent the afternoon watching them go on the same rides repeatedly, eat cotton candy and play games. He tried to blend in with the crowd so they wouldn’t notice him. He pulls back now.
Denise follows Ryder to the Zipper and gets in a cart with him. Danielle watches from the sidelines with Chase. He is still too young for that ride. She turns to Chase, while pointing to a cart at the top. Probably showing him where his mother and Ryder are. She looks up from Chase and her eyes lock with his.
He panics and turns away. She wouldn’t recognize him. How could she? He was older now. Same tall, lanky build, but had a few wrinkles and grey throughout his brush cut.
He wanders through the circus in the opposite direction. He stops at the canteen to buy fries and a pop. He sits at one of the metal picnic tables to eat and kill time.
He spots Danielle pointing toward him. She and Denise stand beside the merry-go-round; the boys are on horses, side by side. Denise glances at him then turns back to Danielle, laughing.
He looks down so they can’t get a clear look at his face. Then he realizes his mistake. He had always been so careful. How could he have been so stupid? He remembers now. The day they came home from the carnival and Danielle had said they saw him from the future. He had laughed and looked at the pictures Danielle had covertly taken. He didn’t know at the time that they were right. It was him; future Henry.
Henry was now fifty-five, Denise fifty-six, Ryder twenty-six and Chase twenty-three. Danielle had passed away a few years ago. She never did marry or had children of her own, but that was what she had wanted. She had always said she didn’t need to have children because she had a niece and three nephews.
Ryder had married a few months ago. A movie had been shown with old pictures of Ryder and his new bride. Most of the pictures were Danielle’s. It was during the video, he realized how much he had missed. Of course, he had been there for the big moments; birthdays, graduations and now a wedding. He just hadn’t realized the more precious moments he had missed.
Shortly before Ryder was born, he began his career as a registered nurse. Full time soon turned into overtime. He remembered being so obsessed with working to earn money to support his family. They did not want for anything. They had a nice home, two vehicles, two cats, food, clothes, gaming systems, and a family vacation once a year.
He had felt like a guest at his sons wedding, no longer family. They had always been closer to Denise and her family. At the time, Henry thought it was great that her father took them to hockey and basketball, her mother was available to baby-sit whenever they needed her and her sister was around for the fun events, like the movies and circus.
Watching the movie, he knew his boys had wanted for something; their father.
The photographer had taken pictures of the wedding party, prior to the family. He had watched Ryder and Chase beckon Denise and her new husband to get in the next photograph. Henry and Denise had divorced as soon as Chase graduated high school. They no longer had anything in common.
The photographer directed people in and out of pictures and Henry was next. He was placed between Ryder and Chase. They all smiled for the camera, but it felt forced. The boys wrapped their arms around his shoulders, but they felt stiff. His boys had become strangers.
It was in that moment that he decided to participate in travelling. Time travel was a few years old and expensive, but he had the money. He had worked overtime for most of his life, so he had retired early with a nice retirement fund.
He didn’t quite understand the logistics, but people were doing it daily now. You were connected to a machine, like an IV. The date, time and coordinates were entered then an injection was given. A wristband had to be worn because it was pre-programmed with the time to return. He felt pressure throughout his body, then complete blackness, before he would wake in the past.
In the beginning, they had only entered the date and time, so many people didn’t return. They had to research the location, so people didn’t appear in the middle of a highway or ocean.
That’s where Danielle’s pictures came into play. They were all stamped with the date and time, so he just had to get the coordinates for where they were.
Henry had to dress the part. He usually wore cargo pants, a hoodie and a baseball cap. He needed to be nondescript.
Most people wanted to go back in time to see history unfold. They weren’t allowed to change anything, but they could bear witness. Quite a few people had gone back to meet Jesus Christ. Only one had returned. He said he arrived in the dessert, walked until he was brought back, but never encountered another person.
Henry had gone back to witness missed sports events, days at the beach, and family vacations with Denise’s family. Not only did the boys miss out on having a father, he missed out on being a father. He wished he could tell himself to change. Start spending more time with the family then at work. Now they were practically strangers. He had met Ryder’s wife for the first time at the rehearsal dinner.
You couldn’t change anything. Due to the butterfly affect, you could change something that would prevent the invention of time travel and get stuck in whatever year you were in. Not only him, anyone travelling that day would be stuck.
He watches Ryder and Chase at the carnival; they are squirting water guns at plastic horses to win the race. Denise is close by, but she appears to be texting someone, probably him. That had always been one of his pet peeves. Denise had spent a lot of time with the boys, but she had also spent a lot of time on her phone.
“Can you help me?”
Henry looks down when he hears the small voice. He has gotten too close again and Chase stares up at him.
“No,” Ryder protests. “That’s cheating!”
Henry wasn’t supposed to have contact with them. He wasn’t even supposed to be seen. It was just a quick game though, it couldn’t hurt any.
He squats behind Chase and places his hands over Chase’s to help with his aim. Chase is in last place, Ryder in first place. A few children around Ryder’s age are also playing.
With his help, Chase was quick to pass the other players. It comes down to him and Ryder, but its close. Chase takes the lead and wins. He squeals, turns and jumps in Henry’s arms.
Henry uses that moment to hug Chase with everything he has. He puts everything he had missed into that hug. He then stands him next to Ryder who had approached while they were hugging.
“No problem, buddy.”
“We have to go. Our mother is right over there waiting for us.”
The protective brother.
“You boys have fun.”
He heard them argue all the way back to their mother. Ryder accuses Chase of cheating so he didn’t really win then he moved on to stranger danger.
His wristband beeps letting him know he has five minutes before he will travel. He was going back to the lonely present.
He looks back one last time at his boys with their mother. Danielle is now joining them. He is already planning his next trip.
Chase is graduating from University today.
It has been almost a year since he has last seen them. The wedding had been in August and it was now June. He probably wouldn’t see them after today until Chase gets married or Ryder becomes a father.
It has only been one day since he has seen his children, but he misses them.
After parking the car, he finds Chase in full cap and gown, posing for photographs behind the University. Many families are taking advantage of the small park for family photos. He is with Ryder and Denise, while the new husband snaps pictures.
He stands awkwardly, not sure if he should intrude.
“Hey, Dad,” Chase waves him over.
Henry steps up as Denise walks over to the husband. The boys hug him and he is taken aback. They usually just ran through the motions.
“Here, stand between us so Mom can take a picture,” Ryder says moving him between them.
He wraps his arms around their waists. Chase and Ryder place their arms over his shoulders. They seem so relaxed with him. They smile for a few photographs before Chase joins his classmates for more pictures.
“So, Amy wants to travel for our one year anniversary,” Ryder muses. “As in time travel.”
“And you don’t want to?”
“I’m not sold on the idea,” he shrugs. “Have you tried it yet?”
“No, I don’t feel the need to revisit the past,” Henry looks down at his shoes. He can’t look him in the eye and lie.
“Strange,” Ryder contemplates. “I woke up this morning and I couldn’t shake this memory. It was one year we went to the circus and a man helped Chase win a game we were playing. He was so happy because he usually lost to me. Mom and Danielle were never any help with the games.”
“That was nice of him.”
He looks at Chase, feeling sweat form on his brow. It had been yesterday to him, but since it would be a new memory for Chase and Ryder it would also be at the forefront of their mind.
“The strange part is he looked like you. Like you look now.”
He feels tears sting his eyes. The reason they had been so relaxed with him today was because they realized he was trying to be a father. Travelling to witness what he had missed.
“Maybe he was a relative of mine?”
“Must have been a close relative,” Ryder gives him a knowing look. “I guess I’ll see you in there.”
Henry watches Ryder join his family and has an overwhelming feeling he would no longer have to travel to be part of their lives.