Friday. 5th September. 1670. It has just gone dark.
Here begins the strangest and perhaps most unbelievable diary entry that I have ever written, and I guess anyone will ever read, if these words are discovered, which I should probably make sure never happens, at least not for another 342 years.
It has taken me a while to procure the means and get used to this method of writing. I find it hard to write with a biro, let alone with a sharpened feather and pot of ink. But finally they are beginning to trust me, I have as much parchment as I need, and, although I ought really to be writing here all that I can recall of the future, it is in these few quiet times of solitude they occasionally grant me that I intend to keep this official record of my time here. I have found a secret place, a loose floorboard, where I can safely store these documents; and soon enough, if I continue to convince them of my validity, I may earn the rights and privileges to my own property. All being well, I should have much, much more than that, but it is a dangerous line I am walking.
Firstly, I should say how I came to be here. There is not much to tell that I can make much sense of for you, I’m afraid. It was (or will be?) December 2012, and I was driving my car on the way to a dentist’s appointment. Dentistry. I haven’t thought of that before. Mint. Fluoride? Bicarbonate of soda? Remember to ask. Heaven forbid I should need any work doing while I am here. Sometime in the journey I began to feel particularly unwell. It was a sudden surge of pressure in my abdomen. At first I feared diarrhoea (how I now wish that was it) so I stopped the car. I was travelling the country lanes to avoid heading through Derby on the main roads, being rush hour, so I was surrounded by fields and dry stone walls. Although I could tell the feeling was unusual, I headed behind the nearest wall, just in case my prognosis was correct and modesty shelter was required.
While standing in that forlorn field, gripping my midriff, I convulsed, my abdomen involuntarily arching forwards as if a bolt of electricity had just passed through my entire body. It was just like in films about old mental institutions and their brutal practices. I dread to think what the current methods of restoring sanity are here: something duller than electricity, I fear. I stood frozen like this for some seconds, and could see emerging from roughly where my navel is a blue spinning light about the size of a bowling ball. It eventually emerged fully and spun suspended in the air before my twisted body. For some time I stood there, bent and unable to move. It seemed to be getting faster and crackled with a static charge. I could feel it in the air, just like after lightning. Like lightning, it was beautiful in its own way. Then, suddenly and without any other change to warn me, it shot back into my stomach and I fell unconscious.
When I came to I was in a forest and my car had gone, or I had gone - it was hard to tell. I was disorientated, naturally, and I walked with only the clothes I wore until I found a farmhouse. All I had in my pockets were my car keys, a lighter, some loose change, the flyer for the new dentist’s practice I had been heading for, and some grotty tissues. My phone was in the car, along with my wallet. I knocked on the door of the farmhouse and was greeted by what I took to be character actors, tour guides for a museum experience of some kind. I explained my predicament, still thinking myself to have been kidnapped or suffering some mental breakdown. They listened intently, but they did not understand the meaning of many of my words. They spoke in very thick accents, but I understood them perfectly.
I have since found that whatever device has sent me here also makes it possible for me to communicate. The only problem I have is with explaining nouns that do not yet exist in this time. If I say the word ‘phone’, for example, they do not understand, and why should they, but I can with time and patience use constituent examples to explain the concept; once grasped, those who then learn the word will understand me. At first this quirk of language made it a lot harder for them to understand me than for me to understand them. Funnily enough, this ability also transmits itself to written words. I can read the few writings I am able to access, even if they are purportedly written in Latin, which I do not speak. Apparently also, my writing reads back to those from this time in a notably different metre and turn of phrase than I actually write.
I experimented with this for some time when I arrived at the Lord’s house (I know I am skipping forwards somewhat here, but I must recall all I can about this peculiar event as it occurs to me). I found that when I wrote the word ‘you’ in the English I am accustomed to, they read the word ‘thou’, in that way I only know of through the little Shakespeare I have encountered. I asked them to write down the word as they saw it, and, sure enough, they wrote ‘thou’. It appears that our interactions in speech and text are influenced some way by my very being here. The gods only know what this means, and how indeed it will influence this text should it be read in the future.
Anyway, I mu… (note from this entry – I heard the guards and had to cease – 06/09/1670)
Saturday. 6th September. It has been dark for some time now.
Apologies for my poor rendering of time. They do have clocks here, but I am not yet permitted one in this room and it seems that without access to several dozen time displays at any given point, I am quite unable to judge the hours accurately. This room! I came to the Lord’s manor some weeks ago. He had heard tell of this strange man from another time, with his firebox, the flint that never failed, and his strange blue trousers. My jeans have caused quite a stir. They were less impressed by my thin polo shirt which perished after its first soaking in their noxious excuse for soapy water and being bashed to pieces by a demon washer lady with the arms of Popeye, but the jeans are made of sterner stuff! Faded a little, but still sturdy, and I’ve been allowed to keep them, despite the obvious coveting from some of the squires. I’m not sure exactly what constitutes denim; however, it could help my cause if I did, but I’ll get onto that.
I was brought here by my first hosts at the farmhouse, and here I stay, until such time as the Lord is satisfied by my ‘outlandish’ claims. He believes my strange words, clothes and the lighter I had with me to be devices of some foreign enemy - the Dutch, I think. Sir Stanley is his name. He is an Earl and a Lord. I don’t know the difference. I just call him ‘my Lord’, and he seems happy enough.
Although suspicious, the Lord is also either amused or curious about my predicament, and has charged me with setting down all I know and can remember of my time, along with demonstrations that can prove my memories’ worth. This I have found a hard task. The lighter is temporary, and I doubt I could replicate anything of it. In my time I was an accountant. Of little use to me now. If the Lord were at all interested in double entry ledger balances I would be made a Duke or something. My general ignorance of this time does not help. I can no more make predictions about the future of any worth to these people than explain the plastic of my disposable lighter.
I have, however, found small amusements to buy myself time while I rack my brains to avoid my body being put on one. I can only presume that I will be here forever, and as such, finding favour with the Lord and perhaps even making a fortune would be a grand thing indeed. I was worried that I might cause the so-called ‘butterfly’ effect if I interfered, but somehow, that doesn’t feel right. It is hard to explain being here, but this isn’t the ‘past’; for me it is the ‘present’, and I am here regardless. Maybe it will be like one of those films where it runs parallel. Either way, I fail to see how that is my concern at this present moment.
Anyway, I was talking of my small amusements. First of all, and this was a stroke of genius, the paper aeroplane! How easy to demonstrate principles of aeronautics with nothing but a folded parchment. Granted, I have no idea how they can scale it up, but it certainly kept them amused. They have held competitions in the town, and they are a favourite amongst the children, bless the poor overworked wretches.
The paper aeroplanes got me onto another concept, the hot-air balloon, but seeing as I am mostly required to demonstrate my own designs, I have not yet told them of this. Maybe when I have earned their respect and praise and have willing volunteers to make the flights I will tell them. I certainly wouldn’t go up in a balloon designed by me! I have casually asked about methods of travelling through the air, as I don’t rightly know if the balloon has yet been invented, but no one seems to understand what I am talking about.
I thought basic games would be an easy distraction but found many to already be in use, especially by some of the Lord’s men who have travelled. When I revealed to the court my rough, wood-engraved ‘Ludo’ board with matching coloured stone pieces, one learned gent laughed and said he had seen such a game being played by foreign peasants on his travels. He may have been lying, but the Lord believed him. Not surprisingly, they are rather keen on all forms of board and card games, being devoid of radio and television. Ha! That is a concept I have found very hard to explain. It is like a box, with a glass screen, I tell them, and on that screen, I believe, are many lights that can switch on and off, or change colour. By doing this, we show many pictures, very quickly, so that they appear to move. Better still, these pictures are taken by photography, a process whereby a light-sensitive material is exposed briefly through a lens and the image on the lens is then captured, or kind of burned onto the material. ‘What is this material which has such properties?’ they then ask me, to which I have no answer, reaching instinctively for my internet-enabled phone which isn’t there, and even if it were, would presumably not be connected. (I’m not going into the difficulty I had explaining the ethereal cloud of accessible combined knowledge that is the internet. That was a tough day.)
Anyway, I have already hit the stumbling block of creating electricity, so any inventions that require it are of little use exploring. When I tried to demonstrate the concept of static, I instinctively asked for a balloon, and then remembered about balloons. I spent some time pushing copper and zinc into a potato. I thought a lemon would be better, but they don’t have them to hand here. Still, I think I got some kind of sensation from placing my tongue on the contacts, but I’m not sure that wasn’t just the feeling of cold metal. Even if it were a charge, I have no idea how to turn this into a useable device. If I had a lab, the best minds of the land, all the time and resources I needed, and no other distractions (such as the possibility of having my head cut off), I may remember more. But until then, while desperation beckons, electricity is beyond me.
This is why they do not yet fully trust me. I am finding it hard to convince them that I am not just an imaginative lunatic. I need something solid I can explain and demonstrate which isn’t going to kill me in the process. Otherwise my plan to succeed in this world will soon run out of steam… Hang on!
Sunday 7th September. Definitely night-time.
Right. Apparently steam is not so revolutionary as I expected. Some of the scholars whom the Lord has now employed to examine my claims have known of the use of steam in experiments for some time. There are already published works which surpass my knowledge. It is the application that I could possibly crack, a way of converting the pressure of steam through pipes to moving parts of practical use. I think gears may help here, in order to drive a train? Regardless, that is the least of my problems. The Lord has grown impatient with me, especially following this latest failure. He wants to know of our weapons, of warfare in the 21st century. I have tried to convince him that, in our time, there is no such need for weapons, living as we do in a veritable utopia of social cooperation and a shared purpose to better humanity (I got that from Star Trek, but it sounds a nice enough idea, doesn’t it?) Anyway, maybe it was obvious to him, but he did not believe me. He said, “Even if this is true, unless all war ends tomorrow, you must know the history of warfare to the point when this peace was reached?” He had a point, and pleading ignorance isn’t going to work when I have made my case based on the knowledge of the world I came from (admittedly a very, very broad and shallow knowledge I am finding).
So here I am, under threat of torture and execution, required to start explaining tomorrow what I know of warfare. Of course, this won’t help them so much. Even if I explained about nuclear weapons, the splitting of the atom, that is about the extent of what I know. I couldn’t split an atom if one was put before me with a tiny little axe and a sign saying ‘Chop Here’. But I must, I must think of something. They have gunpowder and guns. They have shown and demonstrated them to me, as much by way of a threat as a reference point. There are some easily identifiable features I could mention. The use of a cartridge or bullet case to house the gunpowder at the base of the projectile itself, rather than as a separate element. I presume that was quite a big development. I could also point out the idea of having these already loaded into a moving chamber that lines up the next projectile to the shaft by using the same force or trigger that hammers the bullet. Some rudimentary drawings of bullet and gun shapes would probably be of great worth. I have experimented with these in my desperation and am surprised at how accurately I can recall such things: it must be the influence of the movies once again. Unfortunately, in this case, I think the scholars and engineers would soon understand me on this concept, and, as a concept, does that not start the invention of mortars and heavy artillery? After all, are they not just larger guns with larger bullets?
And then there is chemical warfare. They already have a rather sound and devilish knowledge of the various noxious gases and poisons. If they coupled this with the idea of large projectiles, no matter how crude, what hell would beset this world? Maybe if I only vaguely cover the concepts it will take them just as long to figure out the practicalities as it would have done anyway? Maybe my drawings of artillery and machine-guns, which for now I shall keep secret with these documents, will be a tantalising yet ultimately unobtainable distraction for generations, and buy me time to think of something industrial that will keep their curiosity sated?
No, I could cause terrible devastation with this knowledge. I must think of something else, I must, and they can never see this, or my diagrams, even this would be enough to…
My stomach is hurting. Oh God. I can’t move my body, even as I write this, I can just flex my fingers enough to scrawl but I cannot grip the page. It’s the light, it’s coming again. Please if you find this, destroy it. Destroy it! And the drawings, below the floorboards. You don’t want to end up like the future I came from! It can be avoided! Don’t do it. Hitler! Don’t let anyone called Hitler anywhere near power in Germany. Don’t let a Russian man, Stalin! He will kill many. 9/11! The Twin Towers, planes, bin Laden, don’t let him. There were no WMDs, it was a lie. Blair, Bush. Bad things. Can’t hold onto this pen. Please, I am a lunatic. Ignore it all! Except those last bits. Oh no. Here it comes again. I can hear a violin.
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