It's About Time

Kitty glanced around nervously before rising on tip-toe to peer through the window. She wished she had something to stand on. Though taller than average for her fifteen years, she could barely see over the window sill as she tried to discern objects in the house's gloomy interior.

"Here, what are you up to?" a male voice demanded gruffly behind her.

Kitty's heart jumped and she whirled around to confront Old Man Turner's bald head and wrinkled scowling face.

"Uh, well, sir, I was just… Uh, that is, the other kids dared me to…" She knew she was blurting incoherently, but she couldn't control her fear.

"Who are you?" he barked.

"Uh, Kitty, sir. Katherine Dolan."

"Kitty, eh? Don't you know that curiosity kills cats?" His stern features relaxed into something resembling a smile. "So you and your friends were wondering about the crazy old hermit who never talks to anyone? I suppose that's normal. Well, since you're so eager to find out what's inside my house, you may as well come in and look around."

Old Man Turner led Kitty to the front door and unlocked it. They stepped into a small hallway that opened into a large living room with old-fashioned furniture and floor-to-ceiling bookcases filled with countless volumes. He gestured to a sofa behind a large box of chocolates on a coffee table.

"I never outgrew my sweet tooth," he said, "although it's false now, like all the others. Help yourself."

"Thank you." She sat down and popped a bon-bon into her mouth, sighing with pleasure as the delicious flavor melted on her tongue.

Turner took an armchair facing her.

"You see, it's just an ordinary home of an ordinary human being. When my wife died and with my children grown-up and moved away, I was lonely in retirement for a while. Then I adjusted to the solitude and privacy. It allows me to catch up on my reading and other hobbies. Now, what kind of skulduggery do you young scamps think I'm carrying on here?"

Kitty knew how ridiculous she was going to sound, but there was no way of avoiding it.

"I…I mean we…Well, with the strange lights flashing and you being absent for long periods, we kinda suspected…uh, that is…well, we thought maybe you were building a time machine. Or something."

"What?" The old man looked astonished, then laughed heartily. "Oh, the overactive imaginations of youth! When I was a boy, the neighborhood recluse was Old Lady Flogel. We thought she was a witch. Some kids even claimed they saw her riding a broomstick on Halloween."

"Then you don't have a time machine?" Kitty asked.

"Of course I do. Everybody has one. You're wearing one on your wrist.

Kitty looked at her watch and blushed. "You're teasing me."

"Not at all. We all are traveling through time as long as we exist. I'm just further along the way than you are. It's too bad the process can't be reversed," he added wistfully.

"You don't think we could go back to, say, the dinosaur era?"

"Where you might be eaten by a Tyrannosaurus Rex? That sort of thing makes entertaining science fiction. But it's quite impossible in reality."

"Why?"

"Because of the time-space continuum, as explained by Einstein's equations. Don't they teach you anything in high school these days?"

"Yes, but -"

"Time and space are inseparably joined. You can't move through one without moving through the other. You know that the laws of physics prevent an object from being in two places at the same time, don't you? Well, neither can it be in the same place two times."

"That's not true," Kitty protested. "I could stand up and walk across the room, then walk back and sit down in the same place, even though it's several seconds later."

She felt so proud of her reasoning that she helped herself to another chocolate.

"No, you couldn't," Turner objected. "The place you returned to wouldn't be the same place you left, relative to all other objects in the universe."

Kitty's puzzlement must have been obvious, because the old man continued.

"Do you know how fast the Earth rotates on its axis? About a thousand miles an hour. It orbits the sun at more than eighteen miles a second. The solar system travels around the hub of the Milky Way galaxy at one hundred and fifty-five miles a second. The Milky Way itself is moving at an incredible speed, as are all other galaxies. Maybe the universe also is in motion, if we could get out of it for a larger perspective. Things appear stationary to us only because of our limited viewpoint. So, even if you could travel to another point in time-space, you couldn't return to the one you departed from."

Kitty was still puzzled, although Old Man Turner had a way of putting complex ideas in simple terms she could grasp. That was more than her science teacher was able to do.

"I guess it all makes sense," she said.

"Everything does, if you just learn the facts and apply logical thinking to them."

He stood up, indicating it was time for her to go. Kitty rose, snitching a final piece of chocolate.

"Please tell your friends that I am quite harmless," Old Man Turner said, walking her to the front door. "It's not that I dislike people. I just prefer that they leave me alone."

"I understand," Kitty said. "Thank you for the chocolates."

She opened the door and stepped outside.

And looked into the gaping mouth of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Inside the house, Old Man Turner paused with a chocolate half-way to his mouth.

"Did I tell her that although time travel isn't possible, travel between parallel universes is? Damn. My memory is getting so bad that I'll forget my head one of these days."