The Engines of Time
By Jeff Robinson (6,800 words)

I’m writing this account to record the events surrounding my meeting with the man who called himself Victr Krzystof.  I’m not entirely sure I understand everything that occurred, and certainly do not believe all of Victr’s explanations.  In any case, I need to write down everything that happened, so I won’t forget the details.  While I haven’t discounted all the aspects of Victr’s story, I’ll still need to recall as much as possible, if I’m going to do any follow-up research on these matters.
Perhaps I should start at the beginning, when I first met Victr.

It started when I last taught at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, one of the oldest universities in Europe, delivering a series of lectures on advanced physics.  After heading the Quantum Mechanics Research Laboratories at Los Alamos for nearly a decade, I had taken a sabbatical to lecture and tour at major European universities.  The trip was part vacation and part public relations for the Lab.  Despite my

initial reservations, I found myself enjoying the notoriety that accompanied the tour, even though it kept me from my research.  I’d already been to London, Paris and St. Petersburg, Russia, but I still had to deliver my four-part seminar on “Quantum Chronodynamics” at three more universities before I returned to the States. 

Of all of the places I had lectured, however, I found the University in Krakow to be the strangest.  Perhaps their behavior was because the University had been in continuous operation for more than six hundred years that acted so haughty.  They behaved as if they knew everything.  In fact, their demeanor went so far as to imply that anything they didn’t know wasn’t worth learning. 
While I’d held my audiences rapt everywhere else, the people who showed up in Krakow yawned loudly, fell asleep, or left early.  They weren’t even polite enough to pretend to be interested.

By the third day, I grew a bit discouraged.  Each day fewer people had attended.  By the last day, so few people attended that my presence seemed unnecessary.  Perhaps that’s probably why I even gave a second thought to the note someone passed me after the final lecture.  Normally I would’ve just discarded it or dismissed it as a joke.

The letter had no stamp and no postmark.  Indeed, it didn’t even have a full address.  It merely said “To Dr. Peter Christoff at the Jagiellonian University.”  Opening it, I found a hastily scrawled request for me to visit a Dr. Victr Krzystof at the Tworki State Psychiatric Hospital in Pruszkw just outside Krakow.

At first I thought it a joke.  My grandparents’ family name was Krzystof before the First World War, but they had changed it to Christoff when they arrived.  I didn’t know of any relatives in Poland, but that didn’t mean there weren’t any.  The name Victr, however, seemed familiar.  Stuffing the note into my jacket pocket, I remembered where I’d heard it before.  Examining the letter again, I recalled my grandfather telling me about his uncle Victor, a famous nineteenth century scientist, who’d disappeared in Europe at the turn of the century.  As a boy, having such a famous ancestor made me proud.  Maybe that memory was one of the reasons I fell in love with science so many years later. 

Chuckling to myself, I decided to pay a call to Dr. Krzystof before I left for Rome.  Perhaps a visit to a distant cousin might lighten what had turned into a very gloomy trip.

The next afternoon, I rented a car and drove to the Tworki Hospital.  The facility was quite close, but well off the main road.  After several few wrong turns, I finally found it at the end of a long, narrow cobblestone driveway, which wove its way up a long tree-covered hill.  The hospital occupied a small, stone castle that had been converted while under the Communist regime.  The courtyard, where the drive ended, offered a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside and overlooked a breathtaking valley with woodlands in full autumn display of dazzling reds and brilliant yellows.

The large cobblestone parking lot led right up to huge ornate wooden doors.  When I rang the bell, an attendant greeted me, inviting me to enter.  I stepped into a spacious foyer andasked to see Dr. Krzystof.  She looked at me with surprise and I wondered if she spoke English.  Producing the note, I told her I’d been invite, ointing at the name.  She took the letter and read it.  Then she excused herself, speaking perfect English and disappeared through a doorway behind her desk.  Moments later, a physician dressed in a white smock appeared.

Grinning, I offered my hand and said, “Dr. Krzystof, I’m Dr. Peter Christoff and I’ve come in response to your invitation.  As a matter of fact, I think we might be distant cousins.”

The doctor shook my hand, but waved the letter in his other hand.  “I am afraid you have made a mistake.  I’m not Victr Krzystof.  My name is Dr. Wladek Brizinski and I’m the Hospital Administrator.  Victr Krzystof is a patient here.”

My jaw dropped in surprise and I stood dumbfounded.  The doctor gave me a moment to adjust and then said, “If you will follow me, I will take you to Victr.”

Regaining my composure, I followed him through a locked entryway and down a long, austere hallway. 

As we walked, he spoke.  “I’m surprised to meet you, Dr. Christoff.  I know who you are, of course.  You’re quite famous.  There are few world-class physicists of Polish heritage and people around here consider you to be something of local hero.  Indeed, your seminars at the Jagiellonian drew great notice in the local newspapers.  I regret I specialized in medicine instead of physics and would not understand your lectures at all.” 

The doctor seemed genuinely interested, but whether it was real or just good bedside manner, I couldn’t tell.  I muttered a thank you, but disregarded the doctor’s praise.  Instead I worried who Victr was and what warranted his admission to a psychiatric hospital.

In response to my unasked question, my escort explained.  “Another reason I’m surprised to meet you is that we didn’t know of your relation to Victr.  We searched for nearly two years to find friends or relatives who might know him, but failed.”

“Is he...” I started to ask.

“No,” he said.  “Victr is perfectly all right.  He is not violent, schizophrenic, or retarded, but he suffers from the head injury he sustained before his arrival here.  He was gravely injured when he arrived and had total amnesia for more than six months.  Even after two years, his memories remain incomplete.  His injury may have caused some brain damage and I fear he’ll never fully recall his former life.  As a result, he suffers from a delusional disorder. 

“Since gaps exist in his memory, Victr’s mind has begun making up memories to fill in the missing portions of his real ones.  Naturally, he is lonely and afraid.”

The doctor stopped at a room halfway along the hall and then handed me back Victr’s invitation.   The doctor smiled cordially.  “He’ll be overjoyed to meet you.  He’s never had a visitor before.  I assume Victr read of your visit in the newspapers, which we keep in the activity room.  He must have talked someone into delivering this letter to you.”

The doctor knocked gently on the door and, when there was no response, he opened it, peeked in, and gestured for me to follow.

I cautiously entered and found myself in a small room with a tiny bunk and a desk.  The barred window looked out on the beautiful countryside I’d admired earlier.  At the desk sat a scraggily hair man busy writing with his back to me.

Dr. Brizinski, coughed gently. “Victr?  Victr, you have a guest.”

The man at the desk stopped writing and looked up.  Upon seeing us, he jumped up from his chair and stood for a moment, blinking in disbelief.  He tugged and straightened his tattered, terrycloth robe.  When he ran his fingers through his thick dark hair, I could see a long jagged scar on the left side of his forehead.  He smiled, grabbed my hand, and started shaking it eagerly. 

“Dr. Christoff, Dr. Christoff,” he said.  “You must have gotten my letter.  I knew you would come.  I just knew it.  You have no idea what this means to me.”

Dr. Brizinski cleared his throat.  “If you will excuse me, gentlemen.  I have work to attend to.  Dr. Christoff, you may, of course, stay as long as you wish.  Just contact the nurse at the end of the hall when you’re ready to leave.”  He turned and closed the door behind him as he left.

Victr stopped shaking my hand and offered me his chair.  Then he hurried over to his desk and removed a stack of papers from the desk drawer, taking a seat on his bunk opposite me.

I sat hesitantly, wondering what to say, worrying about what I’d just gotten myself into. “Ah, I assume you wrote me because you think we’re related,” I said.

Victr smiled.

“Ahhh...my grandfather came to America in 1916 and changed his name from Krzystof to Christoff soon thereafter.  When I was small, he told me about an uncle he had named Victor.  We’re probably distant cousins.”

I felt self-conscious and awkward.  I didn’t know what else to add.  

Victr nodded and listened attentively, then he grinned once more and said, “I didn’t know that.  I missed the similarity in our names and had no idea we were related.  I wrote you because of your work in...” He stopped and shuffled through his stack of notes.  “...your work in quan-tum chro-no-dy-na-mics.” 

He spoke the words hesitantly as if speaking a new language.  I chuckled, realizing that he was.  It was a language my colleagues and I had been developing for years.

His broad grin showed genuine delight.  “What an amazing and wonderful coincidence that we should meet like this.  Who would have thought little Gustov would have gone to America and I would meet his grandson nearly a century later?”

I blinked and sputtered.  “Wha...what?  Gustov?”

“Yes,” Victr said, “little Gustov, my nephew.  Of course, he was only about six when I last saw him.  Let’s see...that was in 1902...so he would have been about twenty when he went to America, right?”

I nodded mutely, then stopped, realizing I was agreeing with a man who claimed to be my great-grand-uncle, a man who’d disappeared nearly a century ago.  Yet he looked younger than I. 

“But that’s ridiculous,” I said.  “Victr died at the turn of the century.  You’re...” 

I stopped myself again recognizing that it probably wasn’t wise to call an inmate of a psychiatric hospital crazy.  Delusions, indeed, I thought remembering the administrator’s warning.  This guy has a serious mental problem.  Suddenly worried for my personal safety, I glanced at the door to see if I could make a quick getaway, but Victr reached over and gently grabbed my arm, saying, “Please wait, Dr. Christoff.  I really didn’t write you to make such an outrageous claim.  I wrote because you’re one of the world’s foremost scientists and an expert on the nature of time.  I need your help.”

Releasing my arm, he lowered his eyes for a moment before looking up again.  “You see, I was involved in an accident, which nearly killed me.  It robbed me of my life, my family, and most of my memories.  I’ve spent two years in this hospital recovering and, for most of that time, I too thought I’d lost my mind.  But now...now I finally think I understand what happened to me.”

Sitting back down, his fingers squirmed and tightened around the papers in his hands.  “I don’t know if it is a twist of fate that brought us here or simply great coincidence, but please, please listen to me before you go.”

I remained ambivalent.  I didn’t know whether to listen or to flee.  His demeanor seemed that of a rational man, but everything he said was increasingly bizarre.

“If I were you, Dr. Christoff, I would be skeptical, too.  If I hadn’t experienced what I’ve been through, I wouldn’t believe a word.  Nonetheless, I am Dr. Victr Krzystof.  I was born in Poznan in 1868, and I am a victim of a disastrous discovery, which I must tell someone about.”

It was then, when he’d finally said it, when he finally made that impossible claim, that I should have gotten up and left.  But something in his manner held me.  The calm and confident way he said it made it sound so...plausible.  I found myself patiently listening as he told his tale.

“I taught, you know, at the University here in Krakow back in 1895,” he said.  “I had a full professorship and had earned my doctorate in Physics from the University of Liepsig in 1891.  My biggest problem was that, while I loved to teach, I enjoyed research far more. Unfortunately, there were few such opportunities in Poland.  I therefore worked alone, while maintaining a full schedule of classes. 

“I never did get any money though to fund any experiments.  My specialty was mathematics and my passion,” he said, “was trying to understand the nature of time.

“That is your area of expertise, isn’t it Dr. Christoff?  Time?”

“Uh, yes,” I said.  “Quantum Chronodynamics is the branch of science, which studies what happens to matter and energy when you break things down into the tiniest pieces of time.  Actually, it’s the science of what happens between those moments of time.  That’s where the miracle of creation and matter and energy reside.”

Realizing that I had recited pieces of my lectures to this madman, I stopped.  Was I having a discussion with another scientist or was I feeding the delusions of a lunatic?

“Yes, it’s what happens between the tiniest slices of time that the magic of the universe is revealed,” said Victr.  “Is it true, that this...quantum mechanics... shows that time can flow either direction at the atomic level?”

“Yes, that’s correct,” I said cautiously.  “All fundamental processes are reversible at the subatomic level.  It is only at macroscopic scales that time appears to pass.  We call it, the arrow of time and we’re still trying to understand why it points in only one direction.”

“Exactly!” shouted Victr, as he jumped up from the bunk. 

I jerked my chair back, half-ready to bolt out the door.

Shaking, he composed himself.  Once more, he took hold of his papers in both hands and forced himself to sit back down.  “That’s exactly what I told my colleagues, but no one would listen.  I actually got myself in quite a bit of trouble, when I tried to publish papers saying time was an illusion and that it actually flowed in both directions.  Everyone thought me mad.”
Victr stopped himself.  He turned his head to look at the bars across his window and tears came to his eyes. 

“People still think I am mad,” he said.  “I apologize, Dr. Christoff.  You must think me demented at best, but please, listen to my story.”

I suddenly felt sorry for him.  I reminded myself he still suffered from head trauma.  The poor man’s distress was obvious and he still struggled with his delusions.  Nevertheless, the man did not appear to be violent; merely frustrated.  At that moment, he looked so tired and so forlorn I took pity on him.  Finally I nodded, deciding to listen, if only because he needed to talk to someone.  I resolved that no matter how bizarre or outlandish his story became, I’d hear him out.  After all, I never had to come back.

This is the story Victr told me.

Victr was a man fascinated with the notion of time.  As a physics professor, he considered it the most important and least understood of the physical constants of the universe.  Mass, electric charge, and distance were far more tangible than the mysterious concept of time.  His research into the temporal nature of physics, however, was unproductive until a colleague, who taught world religions at the University, provided an essential clue.

His friend explained that many religions believe the past, present and future all exist simultaneously.  The Greeks, for instance, had two opposing views of time.  The first involved an arbitrary point in time, kronos, which separated the past, the present and the future.  These attributes were embodied in the personas of the Fates, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos. The other concept described a concurrent moment in time, kairos, an unmeasurable, uncontrollable, timeless moment that has never occurred before and will never occur again. 

His colleague argued that man’s true nature would not be revealed until individuals could perceive kairos and see the past, present and future all at once.  It was a state many religions associated with the highest levels of enlightenment.  Since Victr’s own theories could not explain the reason time flowed in one direction, he took an immediate liking to this model.

When Victr first proposed to his colleagues his theory that the flow of time was an illusion and that the arbitrary flow of time was at odds with the true nature of the universe, his fellow professors laughed and suggested he write about it like the new English author, Herbert G. Wells.  They did not understand that Victr had spoken in earnest.

He continued to refine his theories, but met with continuing opposition from his peers.  When he proposed that all physical reactions were reversible at the smallest levels, the chemists at the university laughed at him.  When he claimed time was an illusion and that, therefore, entropy did not exist, he outlined experiments and tests to prove his theories, but the university denied his requests for funds.

Eventually, in what he considered to be simple logic, Victr came to a new conclusion.

If man’s perception of time was at odds with the true nature of the universe, then something must have caused this unique, yet inaccurate, perspective.  He decided the flow of time was an artificial phenomenon, somehow imposed upon mankind.  He became convinced some force or agency purposefully distorted man’s awareness.  As his work progressed, he became obsessed with this idea.

When he made this claim publicly, his colleagues called his theories insane and they denounced him as delusional.  He was unable to convince a single one of his fellow professors that the illusion of time was the result of some unknown process, which affected man like some form of mass hallucination.  When he persisted, they ostracized him from their ranks and Victr eventually left the university.

Confident in his own theories, however, he continued his studies alone.  Soon he began a new quest, to identify or find this external agency, which created man’s illusion of time.  Only then would his claims be proven true.

Searching for supportive evidence, he researched ancient myths and legends.  He ardently believed these stories held the seeds of truth, which would explain this mystery.

Victr explained that he discovered several curious things from his research.  He found many recurrent themes in the stories of different cultures.  Every mythos told of magical creatures that controlled time.  The Celts had stories of the Sidhe, fairies and elves.  When outsiders encountered them, the adventurers might spend a day there visiting only to return home to find years or decades had passed.  He even cited the American story of Rip Van Winkle as an example of how these creatures controlled man’s perception time.

These same cultural myths, he asserted, had other elements in common.  In each of them, these magical creatures were immortal and far more powerful than mortal men, but nonetheless had weaknesses.  In some stories, the creatures feared iron or cold steel.  In ghost stories, wraiths could not pass over running water.  In still others, the magical creatures could only be destroyed by special magic stones.

To Victr, all of these were important clues. 

As I listened to him, I marveled at Victr’s ability to assemble disparate facts to fit his own ridiculous theories.  It was one of the worst examples of subjective bias influencing research that I had ever seen.  His conclusions were base rationalizations.

Neertheless, Victr decided these creatures really existed and that they somehow distorted or controlled man’s sense of time.  Moreover, he decided the stories revealed the true weakness of these creatures.   

To Victr, these clues meant these mythical creatures could not tolerate magnetic fields.  He argued that iron was lethal to fairies and elves because ferrous metal could be enchanted or magnetized.  He added that running water was a conductor and electric currents through waterways created magnetic fields that were inimical to these beings.  The magic stones, he decided, were lodestones, naturally occurring magnets.  The creatures in these stories must, therefore, eschew magnetic fields. 

In another unjustified leap of logic, Victr concluded there were only two places where these creatures would reside, at the one of Earth’s two magnetic poles, where the magnetic field lines were weakest.  He went on to explain that, since these creatures seemed to appear in different locations over the years, the Earth’s magnetic poles must drift over time.

In 1904, the former professor sold his home and all his possessions to fund a private expedition to search for these creatures.  He commissioned the construction of extremely powerful magnets and even purchased chemical batteries, which could power strong electric currents through wire windings thus creating extremely powerful magnetic fields.  He then embarked with a small group of hirelings to the northern regions of Russia, where he was convinced these beings could be found.

His quest was to find the source of all these fables, creatures, which would prove to be the masters of time. 

As I listened to Victr, I didn’t give any credence to his story, but was amazed by the incredible detail of his account.  Still many of the items in his rambling tale rang true.  That was the nature of delusion. Tiny truths get stitched together into fantasies. 

Still, many of his observations about the nature of matter and energy were correct and had not been verified until just a few years before.  Indeed, I recalled reading that the magnetic pole drifts about 15 kilometers per year and that the alignment of crystals in rock showed the Earth’s magnetic poles had moved great distances over millennia.  Perhaps, Victr had read such facts in science magazines and incorporated them into his fantasies in hindsight.

I wondered what Victr had really been before his head injury.  Had he been a disgruntled science teacher or a frustrated scientist under the Communists?  His vocabulary and fluency in several languages indicated a high level of education.  I decided to ask Dr. Brizinski his opinion before I left.

When I returned my attention back to Victr, I discovered he hadn’t stopped talking.  He was deeply involved in his tale about crossing the bleak and desolate forests of northern Russia, while on his way to explore the northern magnetic pole.

He rattled on.  “I knew, of course, that our compasses would not work because of the powerful magnets, which I carried with me.  I therefore determined our position each day using a sextant.  After more than a month winding our way north, we crossed the 60th parallel and the first winter snows began. 

It was then my porters decided they’d had enough.  In preceding days, the weather had grown colder and the snows deeper.  Moreover, many of them had increasing fears about the expedition.  Some had experienced vivid nightmares of impeding doom. 

“I told them we would just go a little further, but that night one of the men died horribly in his sleep.  His dying scream woke the camp.  There was no mark on the man, but his face had frozen in a twisted grimace of terror.

“My efforts to reassure them were unsuccessful.  They left that night, disappearing into the night.  Ignoring my orders, they left me with only my personal supplies, a single horse, and one pack of food.

“I almost turned back then, but pressed on instead.  However, that evening, I too began to experience vivid, terrifying dreams.  At the time I thought it was due to stress, but I later came to understand that the creatures I sought were contacting me, trying to make me turn back.

“They do not like human contact, you see, Dr. Christoff.  That’s why they live out in the remote wilderness.  With the ability to affect men’s minds, they have built a shield around themselves, a barrier reflected in stories and myths of magic.  They can hide themselves from our eyes and make men look the other way, so men will not notice them.  If strangers approach, they simply touch men’s minds and make them want to go somewhere else. 

“Despite my nightmares, I continued on.  Eventually, however, I lost my way.  The weather turned bad and I could not see the sun through the low gray clouds.  I could not determine my location nor my direction of travel.

“Finally, one night my horse ran off in terror.  I figured I must be close and headed in the opposite direction the horse had fled.  Pressing on until my food ran out and I began to have dreams and hallucinations even when I was awake.

“Their abilities at mind control are formidable, Dr. Christoff.  They did everything they could to turn me away.  I don’t remember things too clearly at this point.  I suffered from hunger, exposure and constant assault by these beings.  I vaguely remember arguing with them as they offered me power and wealth.  I tried to ignore them when they threatened me with horrible punishment, if I did not turn back.  It was obvious that only the strong magnets in my pack prevented them from totally controlling my mind.  I had to fight constantly to remember my purpose.  They twisted my memories and played with my emotions whenever I dropped my guard.  Continuing forward was the hardest thing I have ever done.

“For some reason they feared me.  Perhaps they simply feared what I carried.  I dared not sleep anymore, since I knew they’d take over my mind while I slept.  I fought off sleep and desperately continued deeper into the Russian wilderness.

“Finally, I came to a place in the forest where the trees grew very close together.  The trees were larger than anything I’d ever seen before.  From their size, they must have been ancient, hundreds of years old at least.  They were so large and so close together I could hardly proceed on foot.  The leaves overhead were so thick snow no longer covered the ground and everything on the forest floor was shrouded in shadows as deep as night.

“It was then that I saw them.  They appeared as a host of small, dark shadows that skittered about, trying to hide from view.  I saw them most clearly at the edge of my vision. 

“Dr. Christoff, I now believe they lose the ability to cloud your mind when you deprive yourself of sleep.  I was extremely lucky to have gotten so far.

“Finally, I came to the largest tree of all and knew I’d found their lair.  Since I had long since accepted that I would never return home alive, my only intention was to somehow upset their mysterious purpose of deluding men’s minds.  From the images they had pressed into my mind, I knew them to be the ultimate evil. 

“It’s not that they hate mankind, you see.  They’re not even a part of our reality.  Since they have no material form, they’re not really a part of our world.  From my dreams I’d come to understand them a little.  They have their own designs and plans.  Their purpose has nothing to do with Man whatsoever.  To them, Man is just a nuisance and an annoyance. 

“You see, Doctor, if time is like a string, then the past, the present, and the future are just different points on the string and all exist simultaneously.  Man is part of the string, but these creatures are not.  They’re like spiders running along the string to get to a point much farther along it.  They are just traveling along it, from some unimaginable past and are headed to some undreamed of future.  As they pass along the string, however, man’s perceptions are somehow focused on them.  Awareness is caught up in their passing, like pieces of paper that are dragged along by a passing carriage. 

“Whether this is part of their intent or a mere side effect, I do not know.  What I do know is that the effect of their work distorts man’s perceptions and blinds him to the true nature of time.  Perhaps this makes things more predictable for them.  If men could perceive the future or accurately remember the past, maybe reality would be different.  Maybe blinding man simplifies and restricts the possible futures further along the string of time and this, in turn, somehow serves there purpose. 

“In any case, I decided to thwart their plans.  They’d violated my mind and tried to destroy me for no other reason than that I’d noticed them.  I knew my death was inevitable and, therefore, resolved to hurt them in a final act of defiance.

“I knelt at the base of the largest tree.  At a huge wall of black wood so wide I couldn’t even guess its width, I dug the giant magnet out of my pack and placed the device against the tree.  As I did so, I heard their collective cry of anguish and pain.  The shadows assailed me and tried one last time to control my mind.  So weary from lack of sleep was I however that they could not hold my thoughts.   I laughed and prepared the chemical batteries, which would generate a massive electrical current through the wire windings and amplify the magnet’s field a thousand-fold.

“As I reached for the trigger, their soundless cries changed to a plea.  I hesitated and then regained my resolve, reaching again for the switch.  Their plea transformed itself into a withering wave of hatred and the world spun around me.  I felt myself tearing loose from the world and propelled a great speed, though I did not move.  Then I glimpsed them clearly for the first time. I screamed and collapsed but somehow closed the switch.  The last thing I remember is a tremendous explosion.  I must have blacked out.

“To this day, I don’t know exactly what happened.  I’m told I was found wandering along a backwoods Russian road.  I was bleeding badly from a large wound on my head and was suffering from severe dehydration.  Since I had no identification and only seemed to speak Polish, I was sent here.  All my memories were gone.  It was six months before I even remembered my name.

“Later I discovered I’d been hurled nearly a century into the future.  I have no explanation of how this might have occurred, but it matches the accounts I’ve read about these creature’s abilities.

“During the past several months, I’ve slowly puzzled out what happened and that’s why I wrote you, Dr. Christoff.  With your expertise on the nature of time, you’re one of the few people who might understand what I discovered and recognize what it means.”

I looked at the poor man, unable to think of what to say.  He was obviously sincere, but equally delusional. 

Victr held out some magazine articles and offered them to me.  The pictures were of a forest with the trees all knocked down, like matchsticks in a wind.

“This is where I was.  Look, see the date and the location?”

The attached article was an account of the still unexplained 1909 explosion in Tugunska, Russia, which leveled hundreds of square miles of wilderness forests. 

“What makes you think this has anything to do with you?” I asked him, handing back the papers.

“Because, that is where I was,” he said.  “By my last calculations, I was almost exactly at that spot when I triggered my magnetic bomb.  My device must have disrupted the source of power and caused that blast, hurling me a hundred years out of my own time, as well.”

I shook my head in amazement.  “This is meaningless,” I said handing him back the pictures.  “It proves nothing.  Besides, this event happened at least five years after your alleged expedition.”

“Yes, that’s true.  But remember, just before I triggered the magnetic bomb, I was overcome with a sensation of hurling at fantastic speed without moving.  The creatures had already ripped me loose from the world and were propelling me through time.  In the mere seconds it took me to reach for the switch, years passed.  That’s probably the only reason I survived that blast.  I was not completely in this reality when the explosion occurred.”

Victr’s face grew grim and his eyes narrowed as he spoke.  “I’ve puzzled over this last part the longest.  At first, I couldn’t figure out what caused the explosion.”  He then tapped his head and grinned wickedly.  “But I finally realized the secret was the grove of trees.  When I was in the forest, I didn’t realize the significance of the trees.  Think, Dr. Christoff.  If these creatures are apart from this world, why was that grove of trees so important to them? 

“What if their devices, the machines they use to drag themselves into the future, have to be powered by some form of energy?  That’s the secret of the trees.  The trees provide that energy.  Life force itself!”

Victr grew agitated and gestured wildly. “In the same way they can affect men’s minds, these creatures must have some way of drawing the life force from those gigantic ancient plants.  They use that energy to control men’s minds and to propel themselves along the strands of time.  That’s why holy groves and ancient tree play so heavily in ancient religions.  Don’t you see?”

Victr wrung his hands together. “I hurt them, Dr. Christoff, but I didn’t stop them.  They must have other engines on Earth.  I don’t know where they are, but I suspect there must be one near the southern magnetic pole.” His eyes focused on me with terrifying intensity.  “Together, Dr. Christoff, we can locate and destroy them   You must help me locate these monstrous engines of time and rid ourselves of these creatures that shroud our thoughts and control our minds.”

He grabbed my coat jacket.  “Please, Dr. Christoff.  We don’t have much time.  They’ve already found me again.”

I fought him back, knocking over my chair.  As I pried his fingers from my coat, I shouted,  “Nurse, orderly, help.  Anybody, help me!” and pushed him away. 

Victr backed away, but continued to plea. “I can prove it, Dr. Christoff.  I’ve stayed awake for three days and nights now and have begun to see them again out of the corners of my eyes.  They’ve found me, but they can’t hurt me.  Here, I’ll show you why.”

As I scrambled to move the wooden chair, I glanced at Victr and saw him open his ratty, gray robe.   He had attached dozens of tiny objects to the inside of the robe.  Some were tied with little pieces of string; some were pinned.  They were of various shapes and sizes, but I couldn’t tell what they were.

“They’re magnets, Dr. Christoff.  They’re tiny little magnets.  I got some from the refrigerator in the activity room.  Others I stole from the little boards the doctors use to track their duty status.  I’ve stole some and bartered with other patients for the rest.  I’ve covered myself in magnets to protect me and that’s the only reason I’m still alive.”

He closed his robe quickly and looked frantically at the corners of the room.  “You believe me now, don’t you Dr. Christoff?  You understand, right?”

I didn’t get a chance to answer.  The door flew open as several hospital attendants burst into the room.   In seconds, Victr was pinned to his bed and I was hustled out into the hallway.  As hospital staff escorted me down the hall, I heard Victr screaming behind me.

Minutes later, I recounted Victr’s story to the hospital administrator, as I sipped a brandy in his office.  I told him about Victr’s bizarre claims and his ridiculous account.  I then told him about Victr’s obsession with magnets and that he’d apparently forced himself to remain awake for days without sleep. 

Dr. Brizinski, apologized profusely and assured me nothing like this had ever happed with Victr before.  “Normally, Victr is very gentle and quiet.  I don’t understand what’s gotten into him.”

As the calming effects of the brandy took effect, I regained my composure and suggested, “Perhaps Victr is just suffering from sleep deprivation.  Perhaps all he neds is sleep.”

I joked with the doctor as I left, admitting I’d gotten myself into the situation and that it wasn’t his fault.  We parted cordially and I asked him to be gentle with Victr.  I even requested Dr. Brizinski to stay in touch and to let me know of Victr’s progress.
I hardly remember my drive back to my hotel room.  I retired after having a few more strong drinks.

In the morning, as I packed for my plane to Rome, I jotted a quick note to Dr. Brizinski apologizing again for causing such an incident.  I left him the address of the hotel where I could be reached in Rome and then put the matter out of my mind.

In Rome, I buried myself in my lecture schedule and I didn’t think of the episode again.  On the final day of my lectures, however, I received a letter at my hotel.  It was a lengthy note from Dr. Brizinski.  In it, he regretted to inform me that the man who had called himself Victr Krzystof had died the night I’d left Poland.  The administrator had stripped Victr of his magnets and given him a sedative to make him sleep.  Victr had fought with the orderlies so aggressively that they’d had to restrain him. 
The next morning, when they went to wake, they found him dead.  Unfortunately, the local authorities had difficulties with the case.  While there was no evidence of foul play in Victr’s death, the coroner was reluctant to declare his death the result of natural causes.  Dr. Brizinski asked if I would provide a statement to the local police to assist him.

The news of Victr’s death saddened me, but I didn’t understand the nature of coroner’s problem until I looked at the photographs that accompanied Brizinski’s letter.  The pictures showed Victr’s room with his body still restrained in his bed. 

However, in Victr’s place, lay the wasted husk of an incredibly old man instead of a man in his late thirties.  I could not believe the gaunt, skeletal form tied to the bed could possibly have been the younger man I’d met just a few days before.

On the desk next to the bed, where I remembered Victr setting down his papers and notes, was a pile of ash, as if the papers had aged and crumbled into dust.

I reread the letter over an over again.  Finally, I drafted a reply to Dr. Brizinski saying that I’d be glad to provide a statement recounting the events.  I added, however, that any further correspondence should be addressed to the Los Alamos labs. 
I then cut short my lecture tour and immediately booked flights to return home.

As I write this account, I’ve now been awake for more than fifty hours and am not sure how much longer I can stay awake.  I’ve been drinking coffee non-stop for the past several hours and should arrive in at the lab in about four more hours. 

I’m not sure how Victr aged a century overnight, and I’m not saying any of his claims are true.  However, I’m terrified he may indeed have leapt forward a century from his own time.

I don’t know how much longer I can stay awake and regret not purchasing magnets to carry with me onboard the plane.

If I don’t make it back, I wanted to leave this account for someone to know what happened.  All of the other passengers are asleep, as I write this log on my laptop.

Recently, I’ve begun to see flickering shadows and shapes at the edge of my vision and have the eerie sensation of distant laughter coming from them.  I’m confident the shadows can’t take control of my mind as long as I stay awake, but I don’t know whether the pilots or the crew are safe.

In any case, I won’t feel safe until I return to the Quantum Mechanics Lab where I work.  In my lab, we use very strong magnets in our experiments, large superconducting magnets that can create some of the strongest magnetic fields on Earth.   All I have to do is to stay awake until I get there.  I know if I can just make it back to the lab that it’ll be safe for me to sleep.

 

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