I had been peddling so hard that I had whizzed right Larry's house and never even saw him standing in his yard. I slowed a bit and turned in a wide arc, skimming my foot against the pavement, then came to a skidding stop next to my friend in his driveway. "Hey Lar." He was loading some baseball bats and mitts into a large canvas bag.
"Happy birthday!" he said with a smile.
At thirteen Larry was a year older than me and had been my best friend for as long as I could remember. He was as good a friend as a kid could ever ask for. "Thanks," I smiled back. "What are you up to?"
"I'm heading up to Morgana, the guys are going to start a pick-up game, come on along, I'll let you use my old mitt."
Morgana was a nearby playground that had two little league diamonds, which were usually in terrible shape, the infields filled with ruts from kids riding their bikes through the mud after a rain, and one fenced-off diamond that the softball league used. This field was always in great shape. We usually hopped the fence and played there till the cops would chase us off. "I'd like to," I told him, "but I'm working on something."
Larry frowned. "You're always working on something."
I had been hanging out with the gang less and less recently. It's not that I didn't like playing baseball, I did. It's just that since picking up a couple Stephen Hawking books, I had become consumed with quantum physics. Since then I had been reading everything I could get my hands on and it was actually making sense to me. From quantum gravity to string theory, I devoured it all.
What really fascinated me was the possibility of time travel. The more I learned, the more I became convinced that time travel was a real possibility. Once I came to that conclusion, I started thinking, what if someone from the future, or even my future self, wanted to send a message back to the past. What would that future person need to know?
I mulled this question over for a long time. What was critical, I eventually concluded, was a time and a place to send the message. It had to be a time that would stand out, that would be memorable, like a twelfth birthday for instance. More importantly, the location was crucial. It had to be a spot that would not change over time. It would be very convenient to pick a spot such as my bedside nightstand, but would my house even be there in say thirty or forty years? If not, the future person might have no idea where to place the message and the whole exercise would be a failure. It had to be a place that would remain unchanged over many years.
A rock formation, like a cave would be perfect and there was just such a cave in a park a few miles away. This was my destination this morning.
Once I figured that out, that was all I had to do for the time being. All the actual scientific work of making time travel a reality was up to people of the future, all I needed was a time and place for a message to be sent.
"Well, if you change your mind, stop by the playground," Larry said as I peddled off, "we'll probably be there most of the day."
I knew the park wasn't open yet, but that was even better. The gates only stopped cars, I had sneaked into the park many times, both before and after hours, on my bike with no problem at all. Also it would be better for my future self if he didn't have to worry about strangers being around to see him or to find the message before I got to it, when he materialized or 'popped in' or whatever means of travel people from the future would use to appear in the past to place the message.
What was more likely though was that only an object would be sent. It had to be easier to send an inanimate object through time than a living being. This was all the more reason why an exact, unchanging location was critical.
With the exact location I chose, there wasn't much chance of anyone else finding it. Inside a small cave there was a hidden ledge to one side of a small crevice in the cave ceiling. I found it one time while playing with my friends in the cave. The crevice was too small to fit your head up and see the ledge, but you could reach up and feel it with your hand. There was no doubt that long into the future, the cave and the ledge would still be there.
So this was my plan. I would remember this date, my twelfth birthday, and this place, the hidden ledge in the cave, and if time travel was ever to be mastered in my lifetime, my future self would leave a message there for me to find on this very morning.
The bright June sun darted in and out of the trees as I rode down the paved park road. I thought again of all the time travel paradoxes. What if my future self sent me something that would change the future and prevent time travel from being developed? In that case, how could my future self send anything from a future where time travel didn't exist? Also what if my future self sent me back something that drastically changed the future? Would the future self who sent me that message never exist?
This was the part of time travel that I could not get my mind around, but ultimately I decided that it really didn't matter. I would go to the cave, check the ledge and either there would be something there or not, it was that simple.
Turning off the paved road onto the dirt path that led to Squires Cave, I could feel a tightening in my stomach. I knew this was silly, after all, what were the odds? Still, my legs felt rubbery as a peddled that last mile to the cave. Was it possible that I was about to make a discovery that would change the course of history? So many thoughts were running through my head that I never saw the tree branch that had fallen across the path and nearly caused me to lose control as I bounced over it.
Finally I arrived. I leaned my bike against the entrance and stumbled on unsure legs into the cave. Holding my breath, I reached my hand up into the crevice and felt along the ledge. My heart skipped a beat as I felt something flat with a smooth texture. Oh my God! I thought, there's something here. My heart began to race as I felt along the object, a box, I concluded.
I fumbled with the box, which felt like it was about maybe 12 inches by 8 inches and 4 inches tall, trying to get it into a position to lower it through the crevice. Finally it slid out. It was a brown cardboard with an envelope taped to the top. It all looked clean, without a trace of dust or dirt. This made sense I thought, my future self might have just placed it, or sent it there hours or even just minutes ago.
Could this be the most important moment in history? The first contact between someone from the future to someone from the past? I couldn't begin to imagine what might be in the box. What one thing, what one message would my future self decide is important enough to send to me?
Walking back out of the cave and into the sunlight, my hands were shaking as I peeled the envelope from the box. Opening the envelope, I slid out a single sheet of paper. Unfolding the page a wave of vertigo washed over me as I peered down at my own handwriting.
I started reading. The note contained only a single sentence. "You're only a child once, don't miss it."
Opening the box, I pulled out a brand new baseball glove.
Originally appeared 2007-02-05