by David K. Henrickson
I was there when the first aliens landed in Central Park, when the lost tomb of Alexander the Great was discovered, when fabled Atlantis rose again from the waves.
That is the power of the stone. Those four words: “I was there when”, carved into its surface, can take you anywhere or to any time, real or imagined.
I have no knowledge of where the stone came from or anything concerning its origin. In all my searches into its provenance — and my resources these days are considerable — I have found no mention of it anywhere, in any time, in any culture.
I know it is not contemporary. The first time I held the stone, those four words were not in English but in a script unknown to me, then or now. When I looked again, the stone had changed and appeared as it still does today, many years later.
Nor do I know how the stone does what it does. There is no way I could risk an investigation into its nature. I cannot see that it matters. The stone is either magic or a technology of the highest order — far beyond anything humans are currently capable of.
Will ever be capable of. We’re talking about pure creation here. Of fashioning an entire universe in accordance with a single sentence uttered in its presence. Yes, I was there when Oswald failed to assassinate President Kennedy. Yes, I was there when Hannibal overran Rome during the second and final Punic War. Yes, I was there when Superman first appeared in the skies over Metropolis.
Whether the stone fashions these realities whole cloth, or pulls them from an infinite grab bag where such worlds lay waiting, I have no way of knowing. Nor am I always sure how the stone will interpret my words. It seems to possess a puckish sense of humor at times when fulfilling my wishes.
It also ignores requests that are too specific. A simple sentence with a minimum number of qualifiers works best. Something that can be uttered in a single breath. That is enough if one is sufficiently clever. Yes, I was there when Edmond Dantès discovered the lost treasure of Monte Cristo. (Ha! I needed a wheelbarrow for that one.)
I was also there when they developed the cure for cancer. You see, I am not quite the heartless misanthrope people make me out to be.
You might well think all this to be the ramblings of a delusional eccentric. My scars would indicate otherwise—as does the absence of the little finger on my left hand. Using the stone is not without its dangers.
I am old now, even though I do not look it, and have been a recluse for many years. (Yes, I was there when Ponce de León discovered the Fountain of Youth.) Whenever I need an escape, I pick up the stone, speak my desire, and journey into the realm of What Might Have Been.
Our travels together are nearing an end, however. Over the years, I have become attuned to the stone and its moods. I know, even though I do not know how, that it is ready to move on. To find a new owner, whoever and wherever that might be.
Accordingly, I have put my affairs in order. As for the stone, I will send it away when I reach my final destination. Where it will end up, I have no way of knowing, just as I do not know how it came to be where I once found it. Let fate decide—or rather, the stone itself.
As for the many eclectic treasures in my collection, I have bequeathed these to various museums without explanation or annotation. (All but my journal. That, I am taking with me.) Let people make of them what they will—a last, enigmatic note to a singular life.
There remains only my final journey, one from which I do not intend to return. It is one I have thought long and hard on over the years. Where should I go? The far future? The distant past? Or to some place that should have been but never was, like Wonderland or the world of Scheherazade and her One Thousand and One Arabian Nights?
Perhaps I should go to Barsoom. Or to some vast, galactic empire at the height of its power and glory. What about the First Age of Middle Earth? (Wouldn’t that be something?) Wherever I end up, it should be a place where a person can still have an adventure or two.
Where would you go if you could pick only a single destination, one from which you would never return?
Let me see. I was there when…
Dave Henrickson has a background in engineering, oceanography, and computer science but always wanted to be an artist. Maybe a dancer. He currently lives in Virginia and spends his free time writing, reading, and killing monsters with his wife Abbie. He has also written a number of novels — which he may even publish one of these days.
Where would you go if you could go anywhere? To places that never were or never could be? Where would you go if you could never come back from such a place? The realm of the imagination provides limitless possibilities.