By Elliot Berdan
You’ve learned now about that machine, hidden deep beneath the city, that thwarts change. It’s call the Change Detection and Abolishment Framework, if I’m not mistaken.It complements the various curses left on the land when the last of the original people left on the trail of tears.
And so the land sits dying, lying in various levels of decay depending on how far you are from one of the rivers. I myself was there today, back after many years of exile, and saw how brown the grass has become, and how faded the city has become in this unrelenting heat.
I guess I want to tell you tonight about this machine, and the man who created it.
You see, you’ve got to understand a little bit about Hiram Stoltzfus, and you’ve gotta understand his intention in creating the machine.
Its design is simple, really. The clicks, buzzes and whirring noises all intended to throw off the observer from understanding the machine’s actual function. Hiram himself only discovered the mechanism accidentally, as he was working on a way to travel backwards in time.
I understand the need, the want to go back and change things to back as they were before. I think I was as happy as I’ll ever be many years ago. And if I had a machine that could take me back there, well, I don’t know what I’d do.
But unlike Hiram, I’ve no capability to manipulate time.
Hiram was ahead of his time. He was one of the Amish most kindly described as “jerked over Amish,” that is to say, having left the fold to live among the English, taking up the use of electricity and zippers and a thousand other things. He went to school, and he became a scientist. At times he missed his family. But he found solace in his work as a scientist, and eventually, he found love in a young lab assistant that worked alongside him.
He was a man who grew up working in the fields, only to shun the earth and the sun and business of growing things to work in a lab, cold and sterile. Calculations, as neatly lined as a freshly planted row of corn, became his new religion. At times he missed the smell of the earth, the Saturday evening services, and the secret sneaks of alcohol that he enjoyed with his friends late at night out by the river.
But Hiram was happy, though he had left everything he had known to live out on the East Coast with his bride.
But then, as things so often do, even the most carefully planned experiments take a wrong turn. One morning, his wife did not wake up. Modern medicine couldn’t explain it. She simply stopped breathing sometime that Thursday night. If only she’d been born a few decades later, they’d realize she had a heart condition that was readily treatable with medication.
You have to understand that Hiram had left everything for the East Coast. And in his wife he had found a love that made sense of this new land, and his new life. Losing her meant losing everything, really.
So he moved back to Ohio, and specifically back to his home in rural Western Ohio, just a few minutes from the Indiana border. He found a small house in a small suburb, and he tried to figure out what would become of his life. He found work in a small shop in the hardware store in the downtown of one of those towns named after English cities there on the Western border of Ohio.
Hiram became a scientist because he believed that he could fix things. He believed that if you did enough calculations, you’d eventually figure out the pattern that made life the way it was.
And if you knew the pattern, well, then you could fix it.
So Hiram set out to build himself a time machine. For a man less brilliant this would have been a fool’s errand. But for Hiram, it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.
Each day he’d work out the calculations a little further. He would purchase little pieces, here and there, from the hardware store where he worked to pay for his room and board.
And he tried to rebuild it, the machine that would take him back in time, and take him back to when he was happy.
But even the best of Hiram’s calculations couldn’t bring him backwards in time. The machine that he eventually created could only slow down that angry, spiraling agent of change that so gripped the nation in the early years of the twentieth century.
Hiram didn’t even realize the machine was working to slow change. All he knew was that he couldn’t go backwards. And as far as Hiram was concerned, his life had ended on the Friday morning when he woke up to find that his wife had left this world.
But one day there was a knock at his door. Hiram was downstairs, in the basement, as always, spending every evening calibrating, and re-calibrating the instrument that he had created.
He went upstairs, blinking at the bright light that still streamed through the windows at six o’clock in the evening. It was just after the summer solstice, and the world hadn’t yet turned it’s back towards the sun.
At the door were three men in suits.
The man in the middle wore a tan suit, flanked by two men in grey. When Hiram opened the door, the main in the middle stuck out his hand.
"Are you Mister Stoltzfus?" the man asked.
Hiram blinked. “Yes,” he said. “Can I help you?”
Hiram hadn’t had a visitor since he’d moved into this little house. The yard was woefully unkept, and for the most part, his neighbors were afraid of the smoke and the sounds that came from his basement nearly every night.
The man in the tan suit smiled. “It’s come to our understanding that you’ve been working on a project.”
Hiram crossed his arms and took a step backwards. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
"A machine that can change time," the man said. "We’ve recognized that you’ve made some progress, and that’s why we’re here."
"I don’t know what you’re talking about," Hiram said. "I haven’t made any progress at all."
"Ah," the man in the tan suit said, his eyes lighting up, "so it is you, after all." He looked to the man on his left, who nodded.
Hiram looked mortified. “What do you mean?” he said.
The man in the tan suit pulled out a small box from his pocket. It was a meter, reading some invisible signal. He showed the meter to Hiram. The needle bobbed back and forth between numbers that Hiram didn’t recognize.
"We’ve been working on a similar project just a bit east of you," the man in the tan suit said. "We’re trying to save what’s left. We’re trying to figure out a way to go back, but we don’t have anything nearly as advanced as what you’ve developed."
Hiram looked at the man in the tan suit. “So what,” he said. “I’m at a dead end.”
"I think we may be able to help you," the man said. "We can provide you with better tools, and a better facility."
The man in the tan suit took a step forward.
"Hiram," he said. "We both—"
"—how did you know my name?" Hiram said.
The man in the tan suit continued. “We both want the same thing. We want time to stop. Let us help you figure out how to do it.”
Hiram looked at the man in the tan suit. He looked at the two men standing on either side of them.
Hiram ran the calculations in his head. Perhaps this too, like so many other things in his life, was inevitable.
"Please, come inside," Hiram said, opening the door for his visitors.
The machine was never supposed to end up in Fort Wayne. It was originally intended to pass through Fort Wayne on it’s way to somewhere more important, out west.
But like so many things that end up in Fort Wayne, an accidental rest stop turned out to be a permanent resting place. Hiram soon realized that the men who came to his house that night had no intention on continuing to employ him in their endeavor to improve the machine. Based on what he could deduce, they planned to dispatch him as soon as they reached their destination. But as soon as they had reached the Fort Wayne, the men who came to take the machine found themselves waylaid by a sudden sickness.
Now free from his captors, Hiram decided to stay in Fort Wayne, feeling as if there was a reason that had been brought to this place, feeling as if maybe the machine had protected him from those men. Maybe the land itself, the land which he had conspired to run away from so many years ago, was calling him back.
And so he stayed, and he worked. Eventually he found a successor, another man on a quest to recapture something that wasn’t going to come back.
That’s all I really know about it, I don’t know.