Author: David Henson

*The distinction between past, present, and future is only an illusion.*

A stranger is standing on the stoop. Ben lifts the ax and pulls it down in a smooth arc. “Cup of coffee for a wanderer?” the stranger says. As the couple eats, there’s a knock. Ben goes to the door.

“I’m afraid your illusion of time is malfunctioning. Probably a quantum black hole in the area,” the stranger says.

“Do you Benjamin Knudsen, take Flory Johansson…” Ben can’t believe how lucky he is.

The blade slices cleanly through the log, the two halves clunking to the ground on either side of the chopping block. Ben gathers an armful of wood and walks toward the small house, his footsteps crunching in the frost-covered grass.

“Now you.” Ben pulls the cow’s teat as his father just showed him. Milk squirts Ben in the face. “Aim at the pail, boy.”

Ben gently pats the mounded soil with the shovel. He closes his eyes and feels Flory burrow her hand in his, her weight slumping against him.

“Sure, come in out of the chill,” Ben says to the stranger. “Take a seat.” He motions toward the table.

The egg rises from the spattering bacon grease and into the shell, which becomes whole in Flory’s hand.

“What brings you to our parts, Magnus?” Ben says.

Ben runs into the house carrying Walter. “What happened?” Flory gasps.

“He fell off Nelly and hit his head.”

“I’m Ben. There’s Flory.”

“Call me Magnus.”

“What a little breath of a thing,” Ben says, looking down with a vague feeling of sadness as Flory cradles their newborn son, Walter, in her arms.

“I have something to show you,” Magnus says.

“Flory, Ellinor wants me to move in with her and Franklin,” Ben says. He kneels and pulls weeds from the two graves. “But I told her I’d sooner stay here with you and Walter.” He braces himself on his wife’s stone and slowly pushes himself to his feet. “Wish you could’ve known her, Flory. She looks just like you now.”

Magnus reaches into his pocket, takes out a large gold watch, and dangles it from a chain. “Look closely.” Ben and Flory lean in.

Magnus presses a button on the watch casing and a red beam of light streams out of the sweeping second hand and into the eyes of Ben and Flory. Magnus finishes his coffee, then presses the button again, killing the light. “There we are,” he says. “Things’ll be straighter now — at least they’ll seem to be. Open your eyes.”

“You sure you don’t want something to eat, Magnus?” Flory says.

“Not — now.” Magnus says. “I ate—earlier. I might have something—later.” Magnus looks carefully at the couple. “Understand?”

“Sure, Magnus,” Flory says.

“Suit yourself,” Ben adds.

“That’s better, folks,” Magnus says. “I’ll be moving on.”
Ben and Flory walk to the door with Magnus, who presses a button on the side of his watch. “Illusion restored here. Where next?” he says.

A voice comes out of the watch. “True nature of time manifesting at coordinates 23759.56. Year 2482.”

“You’ll forget all this,” Magnus tells the couple, then twists the watch casing. A blue light envelopes him, and he disappears.

Ben goes to the fireplace. “I feel chilled to the bone.”

“I’ve been thinking some more about names,” Flory says, putting her hands on her belly. “Walter if a boy and Ellinor a girl.”

“Fine names both. I wish we knew.”

“Now, Ben. The future’s not for us to see.”

Ben shivers. “Probably for the best.”