Author: Hillary Lyon

Micah stood up straight, pushed back his hat and flashed his brightest smile at the tourist taking his picture. They always placed their family members on either side of him and made sure they got the heavily forested mountains in the background. Or sometimes they wanted Micah and their kin to stand before the large, weathered wooden National Forest sign. Being a personable, photogenic Forestry Service employee, Micah always obliged.

A picture is worth a thousand words, but even better, it is evidence that you were there—wherever “there” is. So Micah spent most of his days, of late, posing and smiling with strangers and their relatives. This sunny afternoon was no different.

“So, Ranger Mick, has there been an uptick in visitors since the deregulation? Speculation was places like this would be flooded with—”

“Flooded with friendly visitors, yes,” Micah finished for the pale, pudgy tourist dressed in fluorescent blue and yellow plaid. And those same visitors nearly drowned local businesses with their devalued currency, he added to himself. Deregulating time travel was one thing, but lifting restrictions on the number of travelers each month—that had wreaked havoc on the past. His present.

“And it’s Micah, not Mick,” he added delicately.

Tomorrow-landers—that’s how Micah and his friends thought of these tourists—they all wanted to visit the past, where there were still vast expanses of uninhabited, pollution-free land. Where they’d find clean air, fresh water, food that didn’t come out of a factory spigot, fit women, virile men, and real dogs. Micah worried what the future must be like if so many people there were in such a rush to leave it behind. These tourists were forbidden to talk about their own time, lest they alter the course of the future. But weren’t they altering that course just by being here? Still, the tourists couldn’t help but let details of their lives slip, and what Micah overheard was depressing.

“Treat them as if they are visitors from one of our urban coastal city centers,” the head of the Forestry Service Workers Union had instructed in a memo released last month. “They speak our language, so it will be easy to converse with them. They are curious, though not always polite. But you must be polite and accommodating at all times! Our future depends on it!”

“Hey, Ranger Mick, one more pic for the scrapbook,” the blubbery tourist demanded, raising his camera up to his little pig eye. “Yeah, now Bettina, how about you sidle up next to Ranger Mick, and put your arm around him. That’s great! Now, look into each other’s eyes—”

The young woman reached her flabby arm around Micah’s trim waist and pulled him closer to her. “It’s just like fate!” she said with breathless excitement.

“This is a bit much,” Micah said with nervous laughter, as he attempted to gently pry himself free of her surprisingly strong grip.

“Nah, not for the strapping buck whose going to be my baby’s daddy!” The young woman licked her chapped lips and pulled him in closer to her lumpy frame. “Vacation’s over, Papa—I found the one I want!”

“What?” Micah squeaked, sure that he’d misheard.

“Smile!” The camera snapped. “That’s one for the baby book!” the tourist in plaid sang out with unbridled glee.