The following chapter is an addendum that did not appear in The Time Traveler’s Definitive Guide, Volume 1. Whereas the previous chapters of this book were written to be mainly instructive, this chapter differs in that the format is mainly narrative, and the only instruction contained is that which the individual reader may glean from the following personal experiences.
On April 21, 2001, at approximately 4:30pm, Thomas Meriweather discovered how to time travel for the first time in his life. About five minutes later, he was visited by an older Thomas Meriweather from the future.
When Tom first approached me with the idea of writing The Time Traveler’s Definitive Guide, I objected that I was unqualified to write such a book, and that I was too busy. I told him I’d never written a whole book, and I wouldn’t know where to start. I produced a plethora of legitimate excuses for why I couldn’t write the book, but he just shrugged them all off. He knew I would eventually give in because he already had the book with my name as the author.
A year later I finally did give in, and we began having lengthy appointments once a week where I would interview Tom about his experiences, and we would discuss time travel in depth. Tom and I had been friends since we were kids, and we had kept in fairly regular contact over the years despite Tom’s time travel, but these visits were much more focused and consistent. We kept up these appointments for a little over a year, and I suppose I should point out that although these meetings were each a week apart for me, I could never be sure how much time he spent between them.
By the time Tom and I had our last regular meeting, I had a pretty clear idea of the book I was going to write. I was able to write the first draft fairly quickly, but each revision took me quite a while because I was editing it myself. It didn’t help that Tom refused to look at any of my drafts to tell me if I was on the right track. “I don’t want any stinking PRP’s popping up because I gave you feedback,” he’d always say.
Seven months after writing the initial draft, I was finally satisfied with the result and I sent Tom a letter asking him to come take a look at the manuscript. I remember expecting that Tom would finally read my work, shower me with praise over how magnificent it had turned out, and then we would discuss the next steps in pursuing its publication. What happened instead was the biggest argument in the entire history of our friendship.
An hour after the mailman picked up my letter Tom showed up at my house and proclaimed, “Finally! Let’s publish the [expletive removed] thing!”
“Be serious Tom,” I said, hoping he was joking. “I can’t submit it to publishers when you haven’t even looked at it yet.”
“No, no, no,” said Tom, waiving his hands. “You don’t have to worry about submitting anything. I’ve got it all worked out.”
“You do?” I asked. I became excited at the thought that Tom was finally going to use his knowledge of the future to make things easier for me. No need to send out countless submissions. No rejection letters! Tom would just tell me exactly to whom I needed to submit the manuscript, and they would be one that wanted to publish it! I never would have asked Tom for such a thing, but if he was offering, how could I say no?
“Of course,” said Tom, looking at me like I was an idiot. “I’ve had it figured out all along. Years ago I set aside some funds in an investment I knew would do well. Now I’m going to turn those funds over to you so you can self-publish a copy of the book for me, and then you can keep whatever is left over.” He elbowed me lightly in the ribs and grinned. “It’s not enough to make you rich, but it should certainly be worth your trouble.”
“Worth my trouble?” I began to become angry as Tom’s words sunk in. He wasn’t helping me at all. He was giving our book, my book, the kiss of death. “Tom, I’ve spent almost two years working with you to make this book! And now we’re not even going to try to get it published?”
“What’re you getting all bent out of shape about?” asked Tom, obviously annoyed at my lack of gratitude. “I’m giving you more than most writers make on their books, even if they do get published. Besides, who do you think is ever going to want to read it besides me?”
I like to think of myself as a fairly level-headed and thoughtful individual, but I must admit that after hearing Tom’s last question, I completely lost my composure. “Tom, you selfish Neanderthal!” I yelled. “All that time you spent convincing me to write this stupid book, and then all the nights we spent talking about it, you always made it sound like this big important thing. You really got me to believe it was going to help people and change lives.”
“Look,” he said, lowering his voice and putting a hand on my shoulder, “it helped me. It changed my life. Isn’t that good enough?”
I was still mad. “So you’re telling me that my book never gets published?”
Tom took his hand off my shoulder, and I suddenly realized I had crossed the line. I had asked Tom about the future, and I had told him I would never do that. Even worse, I had asked out of my own selfish and prideful benefit. I looked away, feeling embarrassed, and still a bit angry.
Tom and I stood there silent for a long time until Tom let out a long sigh and said, “You don’t get it. Out of all the idiots I’ve ever known, I thought you got it, but you don’t. I lived my whole life based on a book written by an idiot who doesn’t even get it.”
Tom shook his head as he started to leave. “Look, you’ll get a check in the mail by tomorrow. Just cash it and publish the [expletive removed] book however you want and mail the copy to my P.O. box. After that you can do whatever you want with it.”
I awkwardly fumbled some kind of agreement.
“Oh, one last thing,” Tom said. “You need to add ‘Volume 1’ to the end of the title of the book. Don’t ask why, just do it, OK?” Tom then put on his hat, and he was gone.
I was still brooding about this argument a month later when I took the manuscript to a local print shop to get it published. It was nothing fancy. No leather-bound cover or glossy pages like I had imagined. It was just plain paper with blue plastic covers and a sturdy but simple spiral binding. On the first page in big letters it read, “The Time Traveler’s Definitive Guide, Volume 1.” Underneath that in smaller letters it had my name and the copyright date.
Holding that book was one of the most pathetic moments of my life. Considering the amount on the check that Tom had sent, I felt embarrassed by how little money and effort I had put into publishing the book, and when you looked at the final result, it was easy to see I had gotten what I paid for.
I seriously considered throwing the book straight in the garbage and starting from scratch, but at that point I was so disgusted with the whole scenario that I just wanted the project to be over. I paid for the book and a large padded envelope and then stopped at the post office on the way home to send the package to Tom.
A few months went by and I had mostly put the book out of my mind. Between my job, family, and other responsibilities, it wasn’t very hard. Just as I was starting to wonder when I’d ever see Tom again, I received a letter from him asking me to come visit him.
The first thing I noticed about the letter was the handwriting. Tom’s handwriting was always difficult to read, but this letter looked like he had written it while sitting on an uneven washing machine. It was also strange that Tom was asking me to visit him, when he usually preferred for us to meet at my home.
The address that he gave me wasn’t far from my home, but it wasn’t one with which I was familiar. It was tucked away on a quiet road in a suburban neighborhood, and I actually drove by it three times before I realized where I needed to turn in. I hadn’t expected the address to be for a retirement community.
A kind-looking receptionist greeted me as I approached the front desk in the lobby. I told her I was looking for Thomas Meriweather, and she nodded and pressed some buttons on her phone.
“Hello, Mr. Meriweather?” I heard her say into her headset. “Uh huh. Yes. Yep, he’s right here in the lobby, sir. OK, I’ll let him know you’re on your way.” She turned her attention back to me. “He’ll be out in just a moment. Feel free to have a seat.”
As I sat in the lobby waiting for Tom, I looked around and considered how nice the place looked. It wasn’t elegant or expensive-looking, but it was very nice. People between their sixties and their eighties came walking through the lobby. They would often stop and talk to each other, and a couple of them even stopped to say hello to me. Some folks would sit down at a nearby table and spend a few minutes on a puzzle sitting there, most would just pick up their mail or leave a message with the receptionist and keep going.
When Tom walked into the lobby I was surprised by how immediately I could recognize him considering how much he had changed. He appeared to be in his mid-eighties or early nineties. He was wearing the same wide-brimmed hat as always, but underneath the hat were wisps of thin, white hair. His leaned heavily on a walker and his face was deeply wrinkled, but when saw me he still gave me the same smirk that he would give me as a kid when he was about to get us into trouble.
“Hi Tom,” I said as I walked over to meet him. “You look good.”
“I look like [expletive removed] and you know it,” Tom said with a wink. “Let’s walk back to my place and have a chat. The old ladies around here don’t remember a thing you say to their face, but they don’t miss a word when they’re eavesdropping.”
“We heard that, Tommy!” came a female voice from the corner of the room as we walked away.
“You go by ‘Tommy’ now?” I asked.
“Nah,” replied Tom as we exited the main building. “The old ladies just call me that because it makes my face turn red and they know they can get away with it. It’s probably their way of getting back at me for calling them old ladies. They’re a nosy bunch, but they turn into a flock of angels if you get sick or hurt around here. One week I didn’t show up for dinner in the mess hall for a few days and I must’ve had five or six of them knocking on my door to see if I’d keeled over.”
As we walked the grounds, I was surprised to see that the retirement community was considerably bigger than it appeared from the front driveway. The property stretched on for was appeared to be several acres as we walked past several small cottages on the grounds.
“Most folks who move in here live in one of these,” said Tom, nodding towards the cottages I was looking at. He hooked a thumb over his shoulder to gesture in the direction we just came from. “In the main building there’s a health center where folks go if they get sick or hurt or lose their marbles. Most don’t ever make it back out once they check in there, but some do. I have to go in there once a month to get my shots from the nurse. It’s more like the nursing home we used to visit as scouts. I never liked that place, but this one’s not too bad. It don’t smell like pee all the time like some of ‘em.”
The trip to Tom’s cottage took a while since Tom had to take so many small steps with his walker. At one point we sat down on a bench so Tom could catch his breath. I noticed there were quite a few benches placed periodically along the paved walkway that ran to the door of each cottage. Several rosebushes and other flowers also flanked the walkway. As we sat on the bench I heard a couple of birds chirping in a nearby tree, as well as the sound of a river somewhere off in the distance.
“This is a nice place, Tom,” I said, leaning my head back.
Tom laughed. “Yeah, that was intentional,” he said. “I set aside a good chunk of change to make sure I could get in here. Not a fortune or anything, but I did have to plan ahead.” He leaned over to me and added in a low voice, “I even had a little something to do with the creation of this place almost 60 years ago. I helped convince the board to go with the huts instead of a high rise.”
Once Tom caught his breath we continued walking, and before long we arrived at his cottage. A couple of his neighbors waved from a nearby porch as Tom opened the door. The inside of Tom’s cottage was small, but comfortable. His living room had a couch, a reclining chair, and a bookshelf that looked like it was about to collapse from the weight it carried. His walls were covered with photographs, maps, and souvenirs from dozens of time periods.
Tom walked up to the recliner and used a remote to raise it up to where he was standing. He sat in the chair and used the remote to lower it back down as he tried to catch his breath. He gestured to the couch as if to tell me to sit down, but couldn’t get the words out between his coughing and wheezing.
“Can I get you a drink of water?” I asked Tom, moving towards his small kitchen.
Tom nodded and then added, “There’s some lemonade in the fridge.”
I looked around in his cupboards until I found a glass, and then turned and opened the refrigerator. I was surprised to see that everything inside sported a piece of masking tape with different dates scrawled on with thick black marker. I brought the glass and a carton of lemonade over to Tom and started to pour.
After taking a drink, Tom pointed to the masking tape on the carton and said, “That’s an old time traveler’s trick. Mark everything with the date you bought it to make sure you don’t accidentally eat anything rotten or throw out anything that’s still good. Turns out that trick works out pretty good when you’re old and your memory starts going too.”
I returned the lemonade to the refrigerator and took a seat on Tom’s couch. “Speaking of time travel,” Tom said, “now that we’re out of earshot, I’ve got some things I need to tell you. Let me start by asking you something. If I’ve got the date right, you’re still steamed from that fight we had about the book, right?”
I was often caught off guard by Tom’s directness, and this was no exception. “No,” I stammered. “No, not really.”
“You can’t lie worth [expletive removed], you know that?” said Tom. “I had almost forgotten that about you.” Tom smiled for a moment and then his expression became serious and he looked away. “You’re right to be mad. I don’t like apologizing more than once, but since you won’t hear the first time for a while, I guess I’ll have to. I was selfish and careless. I took advantage of your good faith, and I’m sorry.”
I looked over at Tom fidgeting in his recliner and staring down into the glass in his hands. I wondered how long he had lived thinking this fight between us was still important. “It’s OK,” I said. “Really, I’m not mad about it. I probably overreacted anyway.”
“Yeah, you did,” said Tom as he set his glass on an end table next to his recliner. “You should have had more faith in me, but that doesn’t matter now.” He finished his statement with a wave of his hand as if to keep me from responding. “We’ve got other things to discuss. How much time have you got?”
I looked down at my watch. “Well, it’s the weekend so I’m not in a big rush, but I was planning to be home before dinner-“
Tom cut me off. “Well I haven’t got much.”
“Much what?” I asked.
“Time, obviously,” Tom replied, gesturing to himself. “I’m an old fart if you hadn’t noticed.” Tom let out a deep sigh before he continued. “And I definitely don’t have time for tiptoeing around old fights. So are you sure you’re not mad?”
“I’m sure,” I replied. “Really. I’m fine and you don’t need to say another word about it.” As I said the words I was surprised to realize they were true. “So what do we need to talk about?”
Tom visibly relaxed and sat back in his chair. “For one thing,” said Tom, “I’m not time traveling anymore.”
“Really?” I asked. It was hard to imagine Tom ever giving up time travel.
“Yes, really,” said Tom, a little annoyed. “Time traveling was never entirely safe under the best circumstances, and these days it would just be downright foolish.”
“I’m just surprised,” I said. “I always assumed if you ever retired, you’d want to go back to whatever time period you’d be in if you never time traveled. You know, several decades from now when you would have been old naturally.”
“For a long time I assumed that too,” replied Tom, “but I’ve got a list of reasons why I settled on this time, and you’re on the list.”
I could tell that Tom’s last statement carried a lot of weight, and I took a moment for his words to sink in. “What do you need me to do?” I finally asked in a low voice.
“Bah!” Tom said waving his hand in my direction. “Don’t go getting all that serious on me. It’s not like I’m going to ask you to save the world or find my buried treasure. I just want you to visit me every so often. I’ve got no wife or kids or really any family worth mentioning. I just want somebody around during the time I’ve got left.”
Tom’s expression softened and his voice lowered as he continued. “Can you do that for me?” he asked. “Can you spare some of your time before mine runs out?”
I looked in the eyes of my oldest friend and saw a pleading and longing that I’d never seen in his eyes before. Tom was a proud man, and for him this request may have been one of the hardest things he had ever brought himself to do.
“Of course,” I replied. “What do you say we start up our weekly meetings again?”
After that initial visit to Tom’s cottage, I continued to meet with him every weekend for three months. Tom would sometimes be irritated at the constraints of giving up time travel, but for the most part he was content and always expressed gratitude for my visits. During my last visit in Tom’s cottage he seemed a bit dizzy as he walked around, but assured me he was fine and just needed some rest.
When I returned to visit Tom the following week, the receptionist at the front desk informed me that Tom had been moved to the Health Center in the main building, and that I could visit him there. I learned that Tom had fallen in his cottage, and the experience had left him unable to get around by himself. The staff said that they would try to help Tom get back into a condition that would allow him to return to his cottage, but Tom obviously thought that was unlikely.
“I knew once I bought my ticket in here, it would be a one-way trip,” he had said to me.
Tom’s words proved to be accurate. I continued my weekly visits, but Tom’s condition never seemed to improve. A few months after going into the Health Center, Tom had aspirated some fluid in his lungs and it became difficult for him to carry on a conversation with me for very long. After that our visits mostly consisted of me telling him about news in my life or reading aloud his old notes and journals that he had left in my care.
One day when I came to visit Tom, the nurse informed me that Tom had been sleeping since the night before, but I was welcome to try to wake him. Tom had always been a light sleeper, so when I couldn’t arouse him from sleep within a couple of minutes, it was clear he would not be waking up for me.
Roughly one year after my first visit to Tom’s cottage, I received a phone call at around 2:00 am. The caller had hung up before I could get to my phone, but I recognized the phone number as the phone in Tom’s room in the Health Center. I called back, but didn’t receive an answer.
I had considered calling the nurse’s line there at the Health Center, but I knew from previous experience that confidentiality laws would keep her from telling me anything specific about Tom since I wasn’t a family member. An hour later I kissed my wife on the forehead as I left to go see Tom.
The building was dark when I arrived, but luckily I met up with one of the caregivers who was outside taking a break. Since they recognized me, they let me follow them inside and talk to the nurse. The nurse informed me that she didn’t know of anyone there who would have called me, but I was welcome to sit with Tom since I was already there.
When I sat down in Tom’s room the digital clock on his table read 4:35 am. Tom’s breathing was shallow and raspy, but steady, much as it had been ever since he had failed to wake up. At 5:03 am Tom made a noise that sounded like an incredibly loud snore, and then his breathing sounded drastically different. His mouth began moving open and closed in a way that reminded me of a fish freshly brought out of the water.
After that, time moved in a bit of a blur for me. It was more like watching a movie go along than experiencing the events for myself. I pressed the call light in his room and one of the aides came in a minute later. The aide saw Tom’s breathing and quickly went to fetch the nurse. The nurse arrived to take Tom’s pulse and listen to his lungs with a stethoscope.
After listening to his lungs, the nurse sighed and looked over to me with a kind expression. “He’s already gone,” she said. “This is just his body going through the very end. You can stay with him if you like, but there isn’t anything we can do at this point.”
I stayed with Tom for a few more minutes until his movements stopped, and then it was over. His complexion became pale and a couple of minutes later the aide next to me put a rolled up towel under Tom’s jaw so it wouldn’t get stuck open.
For all the experiences I had ever heard about death, I had never expected it to be so peaceful or normal. One moment Tom was alive, and the next he wasn’t. There was no drama or suspense. He had no significant last words or insights to share with me. It wasn’t climactic or anticlimactic. It just was.
I stayed with Tom a few more minutes before another aide came in and informed me they would need to change Tom’s clothes and prepare him for getting picked up by the funeral home he had hired months ago.
I walked out of his room and stopped at the nurse’s station to thank her for everything. “It’s just wonderful you could be with him,” she had said. “I don’t know how you got that phone call, but obviously somebody wanted you here.”
I walked back to my car with a feeling somewhere between shock and contentment. I was sad that my friend was gone, but I was glad that he had gone so peacefully. I felt grief at the loss, but grateful that it was over. Perhaps that is why I was so surprised when I saw Tom leaning against the door of my car.
Of course, this was not the Tom I had just left in the Health Center. This Tom appeared to be in his late 30’s or early 40’s. The hair under his wide-brimmed hat was still dark brown, with only a hint of grey creeping in. He smiled broadly as he saw me walking up to him.
“Hi Tom,” I managed to say. “What are you doing here?”
“Not really sure, myself,” Tom replied with a shrug. “You were the one who gave me the breadcrumbs that brought me to these coordinates. So I think the real question is, what are you doing here?”
I was unsure how much I should say to Tom. He had always lectured me about limiting knowledge when speaking with time travelers, but also told me the best rule of thumb with time travel was to trust your instincts. I had never been terribly confident in my instincts, but I decided that if I had really given Tom the information that got him here, then I should probably go with what felt right.
I decided to tell him the truth. “I just came away from your deathbed, Tom,” I said. “You died about 30 minutes ago, and I was about to head home after seeing you die.”
For once, Tom genuinely looked surprised. “Oh,” he said. “Heh, well I didn’t see that one coming.”
After a moment he added, “That’s actually where I just came from too.” When I looked at him puzzled he clarified his statement. “From your deathbed, I mean. That’s where I got the breadcrumbs from. You had this letter in your pocket.” He pulled a crumpled and stained envelope from his inside jacket pocket that had his name written in my handwriting. “You know I’ve never been a very patient man, so I decided to jump to the coordinates as soon as I could break away from your family.”
I came up next to him and leaned against my car. I don’t know how long we both stood there just leaning on the car and looking up at the sky, but by the time one of us spoke again, the clouds were starting to light up from the rising sun.
“So,” I said, “we’re both dead, huh? That’s kind of weird.”
“Haha!” Tom laughed, “That’s got to be about the least eloquent thing I think I’ve ever heard you say!” After a moment he added, “True though.”
We heard the birds start to chirp in the trees and we saw the morning shift arrive to relieve the night shift nurse and aides in the Health Center. I could hear the traffic start to pick up on the busy street a few blocks away.
“Look,” Tom said, “about the book…”
“Don’t worry about it,” I interrupted. “You’ve already apologized, and I’m already at peace with it.”
“I did?” Tom asked, surprised. “Huh, OK. But look, that’s not what I was going to say. I wanted to talk to you about Volume 2.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “You want me to write another one?”
“No, no,” Tom said, “that’s not what I mean. I mean a few times when I’ve time traveled to the future or met up with other time travelers, I’ve seen copies of The Time Traveler’s Definitive Guide, Volume 2. They’re real books, not like the one you printed for me, and they have you listed as the author. I’ve never looked at them before because Future Tom had told me I wasn’t ready, but I think I get it now.”
“Go on,” I said.
“Look,” Tom said, “I’ve been selfish. I get that now. Time travel has been a lot of fun over the years, but that’s been about it. Fun. It’s always about me, and I think it’s time for me to change that.”
“How do you plan to do that?” I asked.
“I’ve met a lot of different time travelers in my life,” said Tom, “and I’m not the only one who would benefit from reading that book of yours. It really is very good.”
“So here’s what I’m suggesting,” he continued. “You find a publisher and get them to publish The Time Traveler’s Definitive Guide, Volume 2, and then I can buy copies of the book and distribute it to time travelers I met when they are just starting out.”
“Who on earth would be willing to publish a ‘Volume 2’ book without a ‘Volume 1’ first?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” said Tom, “but you’re a smart guy. I’m sure you can figure it out.”
“Do you think I need to change much of what I’ve already got for Volume 2?” I asked.
“Nah,” Tom replied. “Maybe a footnote here or an edit there, but for the most part I think you can keep it pretty much as-is.”
“How would you feel about me adding an extra chapter at the end about your death and this little exchange we’re having now?” I asked.
“I guess that would be OK,” Tom said, “but what do you think the reader would get out of it?”
“I don’t know,” I said with a shrug. “Whatever they want to, I guess.”