Dennis followed the program’s commands and was transported from his den to the stoop outside his father’s last home, a condo in West Palm. The graphics and the audio were intense.
He was there.
His breath caught as his father opened the door, grinning.
When they hugged Dennis could all but feel him.
“How’s the flight?”
“Fine.” Dennis swept the microphone closer to his lips. “Fine! Not a hitch. How are you?”
“Good. C’mon in. Watching tennis.”
Dennis followed. But when he found himself sharing the couch with his father he saw that they were indeed going to watch tennis. So he raised his right hand and tapped the air on that side of his view. From the drop down window he chose ‘Past Backward’ and then tapped + once.
Now the two stood face to face on a pier. The sudden change from couch to pier was such a jolt that it took a moment to acclimate. Then Dennis realized that this was a scene they’d shared during a visit a couple of years earlier. His father looking past him to the ocean. A strong breeze animating his clothing and thin hair…
This is nice, Dennis thought, but let’s try something else… He raised his hands again to regain the controls, took a deep breath, and held down + .
The background scenes around them changed so rapidly that it became a continuous explosion of light and color. Dad grew rapidly younger until he shrank into a smaller and smaller child and then he was being born…
“OH, MY GOD! NANA!”
and Dad was gone.
It was so close.
When he set up the trial run with his father, Dennis had checked the box to follow a single ancestor and typed in ‘Father’. But there was a ‘Family Tree’ setting that allowed a user to move through a growing crowd of relatives. The program only needed to be fed a couple of generations and then it filled in the bracket itself as far back as it could go.
He checked the box and settled in for the parade.
But it wasn’t a parade.
He was walking into the backyard of the house he had grown up in. His young parents stood looking at their garden. When they turned at his approach they grew alarmed.
“Who are you?” Dad demanded.
“Are you kidding? I’m your son. Dennis!”
His mother fainted…
Dennis right-clicked and then left-clicked ‘SUPPORT’.
His parents froze in time. A tech guy appeared in front of them.
“I am Tomaz. How can I help you today, sir?”
“Hi, Tomaz. I went back to see my parents when I was a kid but they didn’t know me. In fact, they freaked out.”
“Yes, you overloaded them. You appeared as an adult. Go back to ‘SETUP’ and check ‘AUTO AGE ADJUST’. They will then see you at the proper age.”
“That’s not what I want to do. I mean, at some point I’d like to go back a hundred years – what would I look like then? A molecule?”
“Yes. In that case go back to ‘SETUP’ and check ‘GHOST RETAIN AGE’. They will not see you and you will not be able to interact.”
“There’s no middle setting?”
“No. In fact, you have a glitch in your OS. I recommend a reboot. The program should not have installed without you checking one of the two boxes. I will report it to IT.”
Dennis frowned and looked at his parents. His frozen father looked like he’d seen a ghost. His mother was a heap on the grass.
“OK. Thanks, Tomaz.”
“Is there anything else I can help with, sir?”
“No. I’m good. Thanks.”
“Good day and thank you.”
Tomaz disappeared. Dennis removed himself from the backyard scene. Dad bent to revive Mom.
He decided not to reboot. He could do that anytime. He left it running and turned to his other workstation and opened Ancestor and Me. He checked ‘AUTO AGE ADJUST’ in ‘SETUP’. Then he set out to revisit the times when his grandfather spoke of the hidden loot. After all, wasn’t that why he was doing this?
It only took a moment to sift through the times he’d spent with Grandpa to find the one he wanted: Grandpa haggard and gray, on oxygen, soon after he had disowned Dennis’s dad. Dennis fast-forwarded the memory to the right instant. He sat down with the old man.
Grandpa worked at breathing for a moment before saying. “Now this happened eighty years before I was born.”
Dennis squinted, committed this to memory.
Grandpa continued. “Relatives of mine stole a ton of gold.”
“The theft was never solved. The gold never sold.”
Dennis paused the program.
If he could go back through his grandfather’s life, maybe he could find the people who hid the gold.
So he fast-reversed Grandpa to the point of his birth – closing his eyes during THAT! – until Grandpa was not yet and he was looking at his young great-grandparents. He could only follow one so he chose Great-grandpa Bert and reversed him beyond his birth, too.
Then he went in.
The dirt street was car-free quiet. He looked to his left. The town center was there, maybe two hundred yards off. There were horses and people. To his right the street was lined with houses for a long way before dissolving into countryside.
He stepped up onto the low porch and knocked.
The inner door opened and Great-great-grandma appeared. She was about his age. She smiled at him, the smile freezing in place as her eyes left his to take in the complete package.
Without turning from him she opened her mouth and “EB!” blasted from it.
Great-great-grandpa Eb appeared next to her.
Eb joined him on the porch. He surveyed Dennis head to toe. Then he pointed. “Is that some kind of advertisement?”
Dennis looked down at himself. He was dressed very casual 21st century: Al’s BongPong T-shirt, jeans and purple sneakers. OK – mental note: next time dress the part for an excursion back in time.
“Yeah, I guess it is. And I paid to advertise for Al’s. How stupid is that?”
Great-great-grandma stayed put behind the door but not quiet.
“You are a peculiar-looking man.”
Eb shot her look. “Martha…”
Dennis had shocked them, he could see, so now this visit was probably worthless. Might as well see if he could get something.
“So, what year is it?”
“Year?” said Eb.
“Yeah. It’s 18-something.”
“The gold that was stolen. Do you know anything about it?”
“I’m from the future. My grandfather – your grandson – told me that our ancestors stole gold around this time. I just want to know where it is. Or was. So I can find it in my time.”
“From the future…” said Eb. “What does that mean?”
“You are a peculiar man.” Again.
He was getting nowhere. “Did you ever steal a half-ton of gold?”
“No,” said Eb. He turned to Martha. “You?”
She raised one eyebrow.
But the wheels were turning in Dennis’s head. A new way to make money from the past occurred to him.
“You know what? Screw the gold! Do you invest in stocks?”
“Screw the gold?”
“Yeah. Forget about it. Do you play the stock market? Why didn’t I think of this before? It’s perfect!”
His great-great-grandparents stared at him.
“If you’re here about money…” Eb backed away from him.
“No. NO! Forget that, too.” Then he spoke to himself. “I need to go to a different time. Did they even have a stock market in 1871?” Then he returned to them. “Thanks for your time! I’ve got to go back now.” He looked to them both. “My great-great-grandparents!” To Eb he said, “I’ve got to shake your hand!”
Dennis held his out. Eb looked at it. Took it. The shake was electrifying. What would this encounter do to his family? Not much, he hoped.
Dennis left the porch and 1871.
The gold story might be a myth. But finding it, if it were real, would make him fabulously wealthy. But to look for something that may never have existed? He might startle countless ancestors for no reason. Maybe his grandfather would never even be born because Martha and Eb went off the rails after they got a gander at Dennis. That would mean that he would never exist…
But the stock market. It was perfect! He would go back at the right time… What? 1929? 30? and get one of his ancestors to buy stock after the big crash. Now, how to do that…
It turned out that the stock market bottomed in mid-1932.
Grandpa was 17. Could a seventeen-year-old buy stock? More importantly, did seventeen-year-old Grandpa have any money? Probably not. He decided to go to work on Great-grandpa instead, a man he had never met.
But first, Dennis researched fashions of the 1930s and, while studying the photos and illustrations, a great and brilliant idea came to him. It was…
Dennis arrived on his great-grandparents street on June 11, 1932 dressed in what he imagined a believable Teller of the Future would look like: an electric blue polyester gown with wide, drooping sleeves and a flaming red turban.
He stood on the sidewalk looking at the dingy bungalow. This was the Depression. Did they have a couple thousand or so? Maybe not. But here he was. Time to give it a shot…
He got to within a couple strides of the door when it opened and three familiar looking people stepped out.
Look at Grandpa! He’s seventeen! And his great-grandparents! She looked like Dennis’s father.
“You’re from the future!” shouted Great-granddad. “My parents told me the story a hundred times: ‘A peculiar looking man!’”
Hmm. Maybe he should have stuck with the BongPong shirt. Dennis’s plan was to present himself as a clairvoyant and speak in a stilted and precise clairvoyant manner, but this was way better.
“That’s right!” he said. “I’m your great-grandson!”
“You’re here from the future to tell us where the gold is!” said Great-grandma.
“No,” said Dennis. “No. There is no gold. I started that rumor earlier when I didn’t know what I was doing. It’s a long story.”
But theirs eyes narrowed. They didn’t want a story.
“My father said he was visited by a son from a future generation who told him there was a lot of gold somewheres.”
“I’m sorry about that. Really.”
He was about to say, ‘Forget the gold!’ when something dawned on him…
“Goddam!” he yelled at them. They jumped. “You know what? This is just some circular shit I started by going back and talking about gold with your parents. Did it start with Grandpa” – he pointed at young Grandpa – “telling me about the gold or… was it me who started the gold thing and then Grandpa mentioned it to me and then… Wow! This is too weird!”
His ancestors watched him shrewdly.
Maybe he should shut up. Dennis looked at his teenage grandfather. How badly was he screwing up here? What would this do to his life?
“You know what, I better leave before this really goes south.”
“You’re going south? But we could use the gold!” said Great-granddad.
“Um, yeah. I don’t know what to tell you.”
He thought about mentioning the stock market but then the very thought of it conjured a new scheme. Dennis slapped himself in the turban. The .com bubble! He never had to come all the way back here…
So he raised his hands. The video release buttons appeared.
“Grandpa, I’ll talk to you in about fifty years!”
December 1980. That was when Apple’s IPO was launched. $1000 dollars invested then would be worth $9 million now.
Dennis went back to Christmas 1980 and found Grandpa drinking a martini alone in his basement workshop while Grandma was upstairs wrapping. He watched his middle-aged grandfather for a moment before rapping lightly on the doorway.
Grandpa looked up. “Who are you?”
“It’s a good thing you’re sitting down, Grandpa, because this is going to be a little tough to take in. I’m Dennis – your grandson. This is me in the future.”
Grandpa’s expression didn’t change. He continued gazing at Dennis. Then he looked down at the martini.
“Halfway through the second and I’m hallucinating.”
“No. It’s me. I’m real! I came back to tell you how to get rich.”
Grandpa lifted the drink, lifted his gaze. “Maybe if I finish this you’ll disappear.”
He drank the glass empty, except for the olive. Then he tilted both glass and his head enough to pour that into his mouth, too. He chewed.
“I know this seems crazy,” said Dennis. “But hear me out: Invest in Apple stock and you’ll end up rich! We’ll all be rich!”
Grandpa looked at his empty glass. He stood.
“Third time’s a charm.”
He collected the glass and walked purposely toward Dennis and the doorway. Dennis stepped aside. Grandpa walked on up the stairs to the kitchen. Dennis stayed put, listening to the creaking of footfalls and then the clinks of drink making.
He worried for a moment about what he may have done to his grandfather just now. Dennis made him think he was hallucinating. And it would end with Grandpa believing that drinking more was the answer. Sheesh. Dennis had to be more careful. He was really screwing things up here in the past.
After he hit the home button and was seated back in the now of his den Dennis realized immediately that something had changed. For one, the den was now a large, comfortable study with expensive furniture, high ceilings and big bright windows. And he was wearing better clothes.
He went to one of the tall windows and looked out. Wow, beautiful pool there. And a tennis court farther out!
Did he transport himself to the wrong place? No. He had hit ‘home’. So this was home.
Back at the computer he looked up his bank accounts. $484,646 in checking. $1.2 million in savings. He found a $$$ icon on his desktop. It opened a spreadsheet of stocks that were recently worth $38 million. A second sheet held a bond ladder worth $16 million. He was rich!
Grandpa listened to him. Or what Dennis told him about Apple stock had stuck in Grandpa’s head somehow. At the subliminal level. Something.
“Honey?” a mellifluous feminine voice called from somewhere. “Do you need anything before I go out?”
Dennis left the study to find himself on a balcony above a broad, sweeping staircase. A beautiful woman looked up at him from below. A huge rock glittered on her finger. He looked down at his own ring finger. A platinum band. She must be his wife.
“No, thank you, Diana.” He smiled down at her. He knew her name. It came automatically. Well, of course…
Damn! His wife looked like a movie star!
“Don’t forget our ‘date’ tonight,” she sang as she turned away.
He was RICH!
Dennis floated in his pool, luxuriating in the heated water, when an older man appeared poolside. It was him. Or him, older. The two regarded one another for a long moment. The floating Dennis spoke first.
“This can’t be good.”
Older Dennis shook his head. “It’s not.”
They eyed one another for another long moment.
“Well?” asked Floater.
“You have to give away your money. Most of it – not all. It ends up making you, me, us miserable.”
Floater thought about this.
“That’s insane.” He swept his hand to regard the property, everything. “This is what we worked for. You do look like hell, though.”
“I know. And I remember that it made me, us, feel great. But it falls apart. Your wife? Ours?”
“She leaves. But not before turning our kids against us.”
“Monsters, really. Because of them we pay and pay and pay.”
Floating Dennis scowled. “OK. So nothing’s perfect. But, before, we never had enough money! Always working. Never sure if we’d end up in good shape…”
Older Dennis nodded. “But we were happy. And that’s worth more than all this.”
“I’m not so sure,” grumbled Floater.
“Give it away,” ordered his older self. “Before you reproduce, for God’s sake!”
And then he was gone.
Dennis sat at the workstation in his large study. ‘Give the money away’. That just can’t be right. After all this work? Maybe we just needed a little more money.
And Dennis knew how to get it. No need to rely on a relative. All he had to do was research companies that went public in the past few years and who’s stock shot through the roof. There were many. He went back to find them and buy in.
When Dennis returned ‘home’ again, the large windows of the study were replaced with immense walls of glass. He peered out at a jagged horizon of sunny midtown towers. When he arose to peruse the views, his socked feet met warm tile.
He went back to the workstation to check his worth. The desktop was busy with spreadsheets, corporate home icons, account icons, travel icons – it all just screamed MONEY! The background was a stack of gold bars.
But, as Dennis moused to one of the account icons, the screen refreshed. It came back carrying just a single icon, a mail bubble. When he clicked it a message opened:
‘When I found that you didn’t listen to me I went back to when Tomaz asked us to reboot and did so. Have a nice life. Me’.
Dennis sat blinking. He leaned back in his ratty old armchair and regarded the off-kilter ceiling fan, broken and useless.
It was so close.