Paul had asked the old clockmaker to explain how wormholes worked in general. Though time travel may be on the forefront of Paul’s mind, he was still considerate of Tannhaus, who wasn’t against the idea necessarily, but thought it was highly improbable.
Tannhaus turned around the piece of paper for another visual representation of what he was going to explain to Paul. Paul watched with interest how Tannhaus drew a picture.
“Imagine you were standing in an infinite room,” Tannhaus said, drawing a stick figure in the middle of the paper. He didn’t bother with the background - in an infinite room, you wouldn’t see any walls. He also drew a line starting near the body and going left in a straight line.
“Now imagine you shot a laser,” Tannhaus said. “In this space, it should always go straight ahead without ever bending. It couldn’t accidentally hit you in your side.”
“Nice drawing,” Paul commented and he nodded, to show he understood what Tannhaus was getting at. The old clockmaker shot him an annoyed look, but he couldn’t help but feel flattered, even if his drawing skills were basically nonexistent.
“If there were a wormhole on the laser’s path, it could travel through,” the old clockmaker said as he picked up the piece of paper. “A wormhole changes the topology of spacetime, connecting two spaces or two times or both through a bridge. It makes it so that nothing is where it should be.”
Tannhaus bent the paper so the line at the left side of the paper hit the stick figure in his back. Nothing is where it should be - so the laser that was supposed to travel forward, now hitting this stick figure in his back. Out of place.
Or maybe exactly where it should be.
Henry was an old man with dementia, in his pajamas. He was not going places he wasn’t familiar with. He would probably walk around someplace where he recognized it. And since he’d once wandered off into Witchwood Forest, that’s where Tom would stay to look for him.
It was also possible he went home, be that Sam’s home or where he lived as a kid. Those were options for later. For now, Tom stayed in and around the forest, to catch him, hopefully because he’s lost his way and had forgotten where he was going.
Tom stumbled upon the main road and was stunned.
This looked different. And unlike with the caves, he couldn’t look past it.
There was the state road, leading from the Hatchetfield city center to the bridge connecting the island to Clivesdale. There was another road, like an intersection, that should cut through this road; it should go to the left, to the power plant, and go to a different part of town to Tom’s right.
But the road on the right wasn’t a concrete road; it was cobblestone, and the bus stop was missing as well. There were no traffic lights. The road to the power plant didn’t exist yet; it was hardly a dirt path and when Tom looked over the tips of the trees, he realized he couldn’t see the familiar sight of the pylons, either.
He could not ignore this. The power plant wasn’t where it was supposed to be. Now he thought about it, that boy wore strange clothes as well - clothes he remembered his grandfather wearing in pictures, from the fifties or sixties. But would any child wear such clothes voluntarily today?
Tom was pulled out of his thoughts. A car - an older model - had pulled up beside him, in the middle of the road. A woman got out of the car. She was pretty in her red dress.
“I’m not from around here,” she told him, “could you point me the way to an address?”
Yes, he could. The road couldn’t have changed that much around here. Most of the infrastructure was already here when Tom was a child, so it should be about the same now, shouldn’t it?
The woman told him the address. And Tom frowned.
“That’s my house.” That lady was looking for his house. What was she looking for over there?
“Are you Ewan Monroe, then?” the woman asked. Tom didn’t know what to think or say. Ewan Monroe? That bastard has been dead since the late eighties. Or, maybe he was still alive now. Whatever ‘now’ meant in this world.
“No,” Tom said. He was losing his mind. There was no other possibility. But the woman was nice, so maybe a strange question was not a problem to answer.
“Sorry, ma’am,” Tom then said. “but what’s the date?”
And with the same generous smile, she answered: “It’s November 9, 1953.”
“1953?” He could only speak after a couple of seconds.
The woman nodded. “Yes.”
What the fuck just happened? And how? And why? Had Henry counted on this? Did Henry deliberately let Tom follow him into the caves, to lead him to a secret spot where he traveled through time, or something? This was so weird, Tom could barely understand what had happened to him.
“Where are my manners?” the lady then said. “I’m Agnes Houston, my son Trent’s in the car.” She walked back to the car and opened the back door. “Trent, come say hi to the nice man.”
A young boy walked out. He couldn’t be any older than Tim at this point. What was even weirder was that Tom recognized him. From the pictures. This was even more impossible.
“Trent… Houston,” Tom said.
“Of course,” Agnes said.
Now Tom lost it. He was talking to his father and grandmother, in the flesh, in 1953. And still, a voice inside his mind insisted this couldn’t be the case. Time travel didn’t exist. Was this an elaborate prank?
Despite this, he told them how to drive to get to his house - no, Ewan’s house - and they thanked him for his kindness. They didn’t even ask for his name. Maybe it was for the better not to have given it, either.
Tom remembered the book on Henry’s bedside. He’d put it into his pocket. He’d forgotten about it until now. A journey through time, by a man named Tannhaus. That man should be alive now, and working in Hatchetfield.
Time to pay that man a visit. With a bit of luck, he had something sensible to say, because Tom needed someone to explain to him what was going on before he truly lost his mind in this wild goose chase.
The old clockmaker wasn’t surprised when Paul asked him to explain the grandfather paradox to him. Tannhaus had done so, but he did not want to leave it there. It was an easier concept: travel back, kill your grandfather - you don’t exist anymore, so you don’t travel back to kill him, which makes him alive and gives existence to you as well, giving you the opportunity to kill him. And so that impossible cycle continues forever.
But Tannhaus had his own ideas to the premise of the paradox, which was the meeting between grandfather and grandchild. and if Paul was willing to listen - and he was - Tannhaus was willing to share.
“Imagine you could go back in time,” the old clockmaker said excitedly. “Imagine you meet a young man, your father or grandfather, before you were even born. It is an interesting situation to theorize about. Could such an encounter, that one meeting, already have changed things? Or, has this meeting always been here? Has your grandfather always met you, but has he forgotten, or hasn’t he thought too much of it? Was this meeting meant to take place? Are you doing your own thing or do you follow the path the universe laid out for you? And does that path ever change?”
Tannhaus lived for these theories, and even Paul was entertained with the thought-provoking questions he provided. So much so that Paul now had a question of his own.
“Do you believe in free will?” he asked Tannhaus, who was silent for a couple of moments. The old clockmaker folded his hands together.
“That’s a difficult question,” he said. Yet, something in his eyes made Paul believe he knew the answer already, “No, I do not. But I do believe in the power of people to change things. Causality plays a big role, for people react to what happened before and make decisions based on those actions, and then they will cause something else to happen.”
Tannhaus shifted in his chair. “I used to want to time travel. To go to different places and times and see how things were back then.”
“And you don’t want to anymore?” Paul wondered. The old clockmaker shook his head with a smile on his face.
“Dreams can change, too,” he said. “I am content with my shop. With my chosen family. I am truly happy to be in the position I’m in now.”
The clockmaker’s shop had been an empty building in the Hatchetfield city center since the nineties. Yet, Tom always remembered passing by this place on his way home. Sometimes, he even saw the old clockmaker doing his job. Before he passed away, of course, and his shop became some sort of heritage. Nobody wanted to transform it into another shop - every Hatchetfield citizen held fond memories of the store.
But here, in 1953 - if that’s really when he was - the shop was flourishing. The old clockmaker was a younger man, without a teenager girl to take care of but with a shop to keep in a pristine condition.
When Tom walked into the shop, he was greeted by a thousand different clocks and a young clockmaker, who was currently not helping any customers and who should have time for him. A little bell went off when Tom walked through the door, and the clockmaker - who stood behind his counter - looked up from the latest clock he was tinkering with.
“Goodday, sir,” the young clockmaker said, “what can I help you with?”
Tom pulled the small book from his pocket and showed the back to the young clockmaker. It had a picture of the older clockmaker on the back - the same man, but older.
“Are you the man on the cover?” Tom asked him. The young clockmaker put on his glasses and looked at the picture. He eventually shook his head and looked at Tom again.
“I don’t think I am,” he said.
“But you’re H.G. Tannhaus, right?” Tom then asked.
“That’s me, yes,” the young clockmaker said. He briefly took the book in his hand to look at the front cover as well. A triangle, an optic illusion, that seemed to have no beginning or end. He handed the book back to Tom. “But I’ve never written a book. Certainly not on this topic.”
Tom took the book back from him, without saying a word. This was the man. Tom was sure of it - this man had written the book he held in his hand, the book Henry had been reading. But of course this man was too young to have written it; that was the old clockmaker, not the younger version.
And the big question popped back in his mind.
“Are you okay, sir?” the young clockmaker asked him.
“What’s the year?” Tom asked.
“It’s 1953,” the young clockmaker said, though he was confused why this man had asked. And why this man suddenly went pale and seemed to lose all hope for something.
But Tom couldn’t react. The lady in red - his great-grandmother - had spoken the truth. It had happened. As the reality set in, Tom tried to grasp at what he knew, to hold on to his sanity, because no way he traveled through time without knowing. No way he ended up in 1953, with no sign of old man Hidgens in pajamas everywhere.
No way he wasn’t home. No way.
“That’s impossible,” Tom muttered under his breath, shaking his head. “Impossible.”