Title: The Five Watches
Author: John R. York
Genre: Time Travel
In 2019, Jim Zimmerman, the de facto neighborhood go-to guy, finds himself caught in the middle of a clandestine, future conspiracy. True to his character, he becomes inextricably involved in future affairs that involve saving humanity from itself—dragging his wife and a few neighbors along for the ride. Thus, begins a time travel adventure that examines the stubborn predictability of human behavior and how some things, even over time, never seem to change.
“The Five Watches
is filled with interesting characters and enchanting tapestries woven into the fabric of time itself. John explores not only the ravages of time but more importantly the impact of individual kindness, caring, and selflessness towards others that is heartwarming. I enjoyed this suspenseful page turner, the connection to everyday people and to imaginable heroes that we can all strive to become. Uplifting! – Jim Richards, Beta Reader
Excerpts from three different parts of the book:
The alchemist stared at the blood pooling steadily beneath his body. The increasing pain from his injuries heightened his awareness of the fragility of this human body he was inhabiting. A sense of regret overcame him, not due his likely death, but because the experiment of being human would soon end.
Another man knelt beside him. “Master Votava! Oh, my God! Master Votava, you have been badly injured.” Distraught, the man was rocking back and forth overcome with grief. “Oh, look at you.”
“Calm yourself, Baysongur.” This interruption in fully experiencing his death gave him a moment to realize there was something he needed to do. “Go, gather the charm quark warp appliances. You must take them away from this cursed, violent city. Take them far away.” Votava coughed, wincing with pain as he did so.
“I must try to save you,” Baysongur pleaded.
“You cannot save me. If you must save something, save the stones. Do you understand? Go, get the stones.”
“Yes, yes, but what should I do with them? Where should I go?”
“I don’t know,” Votava growled with irritation. He wanted to get back to concentrating on this unique process of dying. “Take them to Leipzig.”
“What should I do with them?”
“Keep them safe. If you need help, find somebody you can trust, perhaps a scientist.” Where the stones were taken didn’t really matter. Votava would find and recover them once he was released from this frail casing.
Ignoring the chaos of the riots still churning just outside the shop, Baysongur hurriedly collected the stones and stuffed them inside his old leather valise. After a moment’s hesitation, he also grabbed all the documentation his employer had created regarding the mysterious devices. Finally, he added a few articles of clothing and a loaf of bread sitting on the apothecary’s counter.
“I should stay with you,” he said as he knelt back down next to Votava.
“No. Leave now but be careful of the mob outside. Protect the stones.”
“God be with you,” Baysongur said earnestly, a tear rolling down his bearded cheek.
Votava smiled. “Go.”
As he lay on the floor thinking his mortal life would end at any moment, he focused on all the sensations of being in this carbon-based body. Upon further reflection, he couldn’t really say it was a comfortable existence. The sentient beings on this planet were inherently violent and the living conditions left much to be desired. Yet, a biological body was quite novel.
Several hours passed before a lone figure entered the shop and found him lying in a pool of blood on the floor. To his shock and growing concern, he was still alive. Two men eventually placed him on a stretcher and carried him out to a horse drawn ambulance. The degree and length of his suffering was unbearable. His original essence could not be released until the biological body expired. Although this lingering death was unexpected, there was little chance it would impact the recovery his precious Star Stones. After all, what could go wrong?
Jim walked into the house and plopped down in his recliner. He was tired. The afternoon was all but gone and he wasn’t sure he felt like starting any new projects. Perhaps he would go relax in one of the lounge chairs on the back porch and have a cold beer after all. On second thought, maybe the porch was too exposed, too accessible. He could go to the garage, leave the light off, get into his car, and recline the seat back low enough that nobody would be able to find him. Jim smiled at the idea.
His next conscious thought was a vague awareness that someone was knocking at the back door. Where were Zoe and Michael? He got up from the recliner, trying to shake the cobwebs from his mind, and saw Emory standing on the other side of the sliding glass door. Now what?
Jim rubbed his eyes. “Hello, Emory. What is it?”
Emory stood stoically for a moment, regarding him intensely, but saying nothing. After what seemed like an eternity, he continued, “May I speak with you, privately?”
“I have something very urgent to discuss with you, and it must be a private conversation.” Emory’s gaze was so intense that Jim felt mildly alarmed.
“Um, uh. Can you tell me what it’s about?” Jim was now searching the backyard for some sign of Zoe or Michael, but nobody else was around.
“It is something very important, but quite unusual,” Emory said just above a whisper. “Please.”
“Okay, okay. Come in. I have a small office at the front of the house. We can talk there. There doesn’t appear to be anybody else home right now anyway.”
Jim led Emory through the house to his office and shut the door. “Have a seat.”
Emory perched precariously on the edge of an armchair positioned next to Jim’s desk, and Jim sat in his plush leather chair and waited expectantly.
Emory began. “First, allow me to tell you that I have selected you out of several potential candidates. I have been here for about a month, looking for someone to help me, someone trustworthy, strong of character, and pure of heart.”
These words surprised Jim causing him to feel a little self-conscious. “Sounds like you’re looking for Sir Galahad,” he chuckled. “Well, I hope you have the right guy.”
“I do,” Emory said flatly. “I am here from another time, a time far in the future, and I am going to need your help.”
After taking several seconds to let Emory’s unexpected announcement sink in, Jim was thinking he should be laughing at the incredulity of such a claim, but for some reason he wasn’t. Perhaps it was the solemnity of Emory’s demeanor and the conviction with which he spoke. Given how the rest of his day had gone, this actually didn’t seem so unusual. Just another person in the neighborhood assuming he would help without question.
The silence stretched between them as Jim mulled the announcement over and Emory waited for a reaction. Jim tried to process this in his typical analytical manner, but there was ‘insufficient data’.
“Let me ask you a few questions, Emory,” Jim began thoughtfully. “First of all, are you human?” He asked this as a mostly serious question because of this man’s unusual features.
“Yes, Jim, I am human. I am what nearly all humans look like in the place and the time from which I came. I am aware that I do not look exactly normal, as you would probably define it. My appearance is due to an extended period of genetic engineering, and, of course, centuries of evolution. This condition is partly why I am here asking you for help. I realize that most people would assume that I am not mentally stable in making such a claim.”
After his narrow escape, he immediately made his way to Ronald Reagan Airport and purchased a ticket to Orlando, a place he already knew would be one of the last outposts of human civilization. When he arrived at the Orlando airport, he immediately reset the watch he’d used to escape his would be captors and inserted the key.
After the jump in time, the bustling airport he’d been standing in just moments before had become an overgrown ruin of crumbling buildings connected by the metallic skeletons of structures no longer recognizable for the function they once served. The crowds of people were gone, the aircraft were gone. The terminal’s cacophony of sounds had been replaced by soft whisper of the wind and the songs of distant birds. The contrast was unsettling.
He’d chosen this time, 2616, because he was determined to find out what had happened. Why had humans become nearly extinct? What were the living conditions this far into the future? How had we evolved?
A patrol of securitymen found him wandering along a path about a mile or so from the Compound, and not a moment too soon. The subtropical air was hot and humid, and the heavily wooded area was teaming with unfriendly wildlife.
Although glad to be rescued, Wilhelm was apprehensive about the demeanor of the men escorting him. They seemed stiff, stern, and displeased with his presence. Only one of them said anything at all, and that, he presumed, was a simple question: something to the effect of “Who are you?” Although he didn’t exactly understand what the man said, he responded instinctively with his name. The same man then barked and order that he assumed meant, “Follow us.”
When the Compound came into view, Wilhelm felt relief. The place appeared quite substantial, like a walled city. Everything within sight was entirely white. After a quick exchange between his escort and the city guards stationed at the entrance, they passed through a large, solid gate, and then on to an official-looking building. Once inside, he was escorted through a large, austere anteroom, down a long hallway and, finally, deposited into a room containing little more than an ornate desk and chair enthroned upon a dais-like platform.
His escort filed out and shut the door behind them, leaving him standing alone in the middle of the room. Wilhelm looked around, trying to determine the room’s purpose. There were a few chairs lined up against the walls on both sides of the platform and a door in one corner of the back wall. Heavy, white draperies adorned the back wall immediately behind the desk chair creating the impression that somebody important normally sat there.
The back door suddenly opened, and four men entered. These men looked nothing like the guards, but they did look remarkably similar to each other in their physical appearance and dress. They all wore khaki-colored trousers and white pullover shirts with lace ties below the neck. The clothing reminded Wilhelm of the way simple workingmen dressed in 1868, except these people were much cleaner.
Perhaps the most striking thing about them was that their features appeared stretched: their faces, necks, arms, and hands all appeared elongated. They all had large, dark eyes and long, dark hair that was styled, or perhaps just grew, in a thick mane along the top of their heads and down their necks. They could almost be quadruplets, he thought.
Wilhelm and the four men stood and stared at each other. He was dressed in twenty-first century business attire, and he realized he must look as strange to them as they did to him.
“Hello, gentlemen,” Wilhelm said in German-accented English.
They all exchanged a look but said nothing. The door at the back of the room opened again. An older man, dressed in white trousers and a knee-length tunic, strode to the desk, closely examining Wilhelm as he went. He sat in the chair and motioned for the others to come forward. The four men ushered Wilhelm closer.
The man at the desk, clearly the person in charge, said something to Wilhelm he could not understand, although he thought it sounded a bit like English.
Wilhelm shook his head slightly. “I am sorry, I do not understand the language you are speaking. Sprechen sie Deutsch?”
The man looked at him, tilting his head as if trying to figure something out.
Wilhelm tried again. “Tu parles Français?”
The man in charge looked at the four men standing by Wilhelm, apparently expecting some assistance.
The one closest to Wilhelm spoke something unintelligible, and the man in charge nodded as if this seemed to solve everything. Then he closed his eyes for several moments.
“You are speaking a very old form of English. This is quite odd. Where do you come from and why are you here?”
Wilhelm didn’t understand what had just happened, but he was relieved they could now communicate. “My name is Wilhelm Gussen. I am originally from Germany.” Perhaps countries have different names in this age. “Germany is in Europe, across the Atlantic Ocean. But I came here to Orlando from Washington D.C.”
The man in charge was looking at him in a most peculiar manner. He noticed the other men were also looking at him with the same expression.
Wilhelm laughed apologetically. “Oh, I forgot that everything has changed in this time. I suppose Washington no longer exists or is in ruins like the airport here. I should tell you that I am from the past. I came here from the year 2016. I know that must sound ridiculous, but it is true. I have a device that allows me to travel through time.”
The man in charge continued to stare at Wilhelm without saying anything. Finally, one of the men standing near him spoke.
“Time travel is quite unlikely. To what tribe do you belong?”
“Tribe?” Wilhelm wasn’t sure he knew how to answer this question. “I suppose I belong to the German tribe, although most people no longer think of themselves as belonging to tribes. I believe the American natives, the Indians, as people refer to them, still identify with their tribes I suppose.”
The man in charge and the man standing next to him had a conversation in the language Wilhelm didn’t understand.
One of the other men said, “Do you have something from 2016 you could show us?”
Wilhelm thought for a moment and began going through his pockets. “Well, I have my plane ticket from Washington D.C. to Orlando.” He waved it in the air and the man took it. Wilhelm fished his wallet from his pants. “I have some American money and an identification card. I can tell you these items took many years to obtain and no small amount of gold.”
The man examined each of the items. Wilhelm didn’t produce any of the gold he had left. That was sewn into his coat lining. The items were presented to the man in charge, who examined them carefully.
Finally, he said, “This is quite extraordinary, Wilhelm Gussen. If you are a time traveler, I suppose you are familiar with incredulity.”
Wilhelm chuckled. “Yes, indeed. I began my journey through time in the year 1868. In that time, I am a medical doctor and a research scientist. I have been searching for scientific remedies for the devastating diseases that have plagued humanity for centuries. I presumed that solutions to contagious diseases must have been discovered in the future, and, as I suppose you know, that assumption was largely correct. But as I continued to move farther into the future, it seemed that, despite the fantastic advances, the fate of humankind became increasingly bleak. I am hoping to understand why.”
They all now regarded Wilhelm with tentative admiration. The man in charge spoke again.
“I am Cecil Mandel, Council Chairman of the New Order. If you are, indeed, a time traveler, then I welcome you, and I will be interested in hearing more about your discoveries. These men are from my Social Order Committee. Zachary Jones is the head of this group, and I will commend you to his care for now.”
When the Chairman stood, the men around Wilhelm bowed slightly. Then, Cecil Mandel turned and left the room. The man named Zachary said something to one of the other men, who then led Wilhelm to a small room within the same large building.
“You may stay here for now,” the man said. “Please make yourself comfortable. I must join the others to discuss the situation and we will then determine what we should do with you. Please remain here.”
Wilhelm had many questions, but the man turned and left, closing the door behind him. As he had expected, when he checked the door, it was locked. The room was furnished with a small table and chair, a cot, and a small washroom. There was a slit of a window high on the wall above the cot, allowing a surprising amount of light into the all-white room. These people have a penchant for white.
The Inspiration Behind The Five Watches: An Accident of Time
Guest Post By John R York
During my life, I’ve tried my hand at more things than most people. Even as a kid, my mother often told me that I was flighty, that I should take the time to focus on doing something well. “Jack of all trades, master of none,” she often told me. She assured me, however, that I had potential, I only needed to apply myself. But I grew up in the rural farm country of central Ohio, an ideal setting for pursuing a Tom Sawyer lifestyle. My focus was primarily on adventure and trying new things.
I’ve always been a daydreamer. In my reveries, I could conjure up wild scenarios where anything was possible. This characteristic remains with me today and continues to motivate me to attempt things I think are worth doing—a philosophy that has served me well over the years
This trait is what drove me to write my first novel, A Wolf’s Tale: Memoir of a Man Named Wolf. The book began as my own non-fictional memoir, but I eventually decided to fictionalize the events to give myself more freedom in telling the stories that defined this man’s (my) life. I think of it as elaboration in the interest of entertainment.
I’ve always loved to tell stories. Even as a child, I would make up stories to entertain my siblings, neighbors, and cousins. I frequently came up with elaborate ideas for having fun, like starting a zoo, treasure hunts in the nearby woods, or floating down Blacklick Creek on a log pretending we were explorers. When I grew older, I used the stories of my life as a means of driving home a particular point when delivering a lecture on leadership during my career in the high-tech industry.
I really love writing stories. After my first book was published, the ideas for more stories just kept pouring out of my brain. I would typically come up with the plot lines and individual scenes in the early morning hours, as I lay in my bed in a half-dream state. The rest of the day would be spent capturing all the ideas on my computer while they were still fresh.
I self-published my first five novels, but connected with an indie publisher, DocUmeant Publishing, just as I finished the sixth. I discovered that what I didn’t know about publishing and marketing was a lot. My publisher helped me through the process and I became a better writer for it.
In keeping with my ‘flighty’ personality, the genre of my novels is all over the map. After my fictional memoir, I wrote two science fiction books, an award-winning historical fiction novel, a paranormal murder mystery, and a modern western, native-American fantasy.
I realize that this practice is not an ideal business or marketing strategy, making it very difficult to accurately identify my target readers, but I don’t want to limit myself to one genre. I will confess that science fiction and fantasy are my favorite categories for reading and writing. And regardless of which one of my books you might read, you’ll find those influences in every story.
When I was preparing to write The Five Watches: An Accident of Time, I began with the determination that it was time to do something within the realm of science fiction. I love reading space operas and science fantasy, but I don’t think that’s within my bailiwick as a writer. The two science fiction books I wrote involved parallel worlds, which I still find quite fascinating, but the persistent urge to do something with time travel kept me awake at night.
I’ve read many time travel novels, beginning with H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, which I’ve read more than once. Frankly, I’ve been disappointed with some of these books because so many of them are essentially romance novels or going back in time to change something in the present, which every time traveler knows is impossible due to the consistency paradox. Of course, most are very well written and popular sellers.
But I wanted to come up with something different, something appealing yet provocative. I mean, I know everybody likes those other typical plot lines, including the quintessential romance novels, but I couldn’t see the point of rewriting stories like: This is How You Lose the Time War, or Kindred, or The Time Traveler’s Wife, or Outlander (all excellent books).
I believe time travel is an inherently interesting sub-genre. The challenge is to devise a story that uses that intrinsic allure effectively. I came up with the idea of focusing the novel on four days of one man’s life in 2019, although the events in my story stretch over 700 years. I wanted the present-day characters in the story to be just ordinary, everyday people who, when confronted with extraordinary events, step up to the challenge and achieve extraordinary things. I also devised the concept of a future of the future to avoid the consistency paradoxes. Beginning with that premise, I let my imagination take over.
Well, okay, there was another thing that I wanted to address. The tension and turmoil in today’s society, coupled with humankind’s propensity to destroy itself and the world we all live in, are things that I often think about. Most authors of fiction write novels that reflect their experiences, attitudes, and concerns, and I’m no exception.
I didn’t want to make a political statement, but I did want to weave a social comment into the story by styling it as a precautionary tale illustrating what we, as human beings, are libel to do to ourselves if something doesn’t change—you know, the apocalyptic-dystopian stuff of many science fiction novels. I also wanted to emphasize our ability to achieve amazing things when we put our minds to it.
The “accident of time” in my story provides humanity with one last chance to change the future of the future. As is the case with all my books, I like to end with a ray of hope that we will eventually figure out how to get along with each other. Hopefully readers will decide that now is always a good time to begin making changes.
John R. York has been writing and publishing his stories since 2016, but he’s always been a
storyteller, even as a kid in Central Ohio where he grew up. His life experiences provided him with a wealth of tales to share with others and resulted in his debut work, Wolf’s Tale. He has since published five more novels, including the award-winning Journey to Eden. A retired high-tech executive, he currently lives with his wife, Paula, in New Port Richey, Florida.