Prose Header

A Visit to the Twenty-First Century

by Joe Vadalma

Table of Contents
Part 2 appeared
in issue 159.
part 3 of 4

They led him into a dark area between two buildings. One grabbed him from behind. The tattooed one pulled out a switchblade knife. “Okay, asshole, hand over your bread.”

Obsidian was terror stricken. His legs turned liquid; his stomach churned. He would’ve collapsed if the man behind him hadn’t been holding him. This was real danger. His life was at stake, and he had no idea what these men wanted. “Bread? Isn’t that baked dough? I don’t...”

The man pressed the point of his weapon against Obsidian’s throat. “Don’t get cute. Your money or your life.”

Obsidian reached into his pocket and handed him the bills and change.

The third man’s eyes bugged out. “Wow. This dude’s really loaded.”

The one with the knife grabbed the bills, letting the change drop to the pavement. “The watch, too, mother.”

No, not my locator, Obsidian thought. Nonetheless, he removed the locator and handed it to the thief.

The next instant, the man punched him in the face, sending him sprawling to the ground. The men ran away.

Obsidian’s jaw hurt like hell, and he’d landed in a pile of filthy garbage. Most of his money, his locator, and his time guide were gone. His nose was stuffy, and his throat hurt. He had come down with some dread twenty-first century disease. Blood dripped from where the knife had touched his throat. He burst into tears. You wanted adventure, he told himself. You got it — in triplicate. Blato was right. This century is much too dangerous. I must’ve been mad to leave my apartment in Enceladus for this.

With his back against the wall, he sat weeping for a long time. Finally he fell asleep. He awoke when the morning sun fell upon him. He ached from head to foot, especially his jaw where the mugger had hit him. It was swollen. He rose slowly to his knees and gathered up the coins and tokens that the thieves had left. He staggered out of the alleyway and began to walk in a random direction, thinking vaguely that he must ask someone in which direction the Port Authority lay. Nonetheless, after his experience with the muggers, he was frightened to approach anyone. He walked aimlessly in a straight line until his legs gave out. He rested for a while by sitting on the curb and continued on. By this time, he was hungry and thirsty. Nowhere did he see any public fountains or food stands.

A hot sun beat down on him, causing him to sweat. He removed his shirt and was still warm. After a while, he took off the jeans — and finally his underwear. He walked on in the nude except for his shoes and socks, carrying his garments in his arm. People he passed either glared at him or chuckled. Finally, he recognized the blue uniform of a lawman. He tapped him on shoulder. “Your Royal Highness, am I walking in the right direction to get to...”

The cop turned and shook his head. “Just what I need today. A nut. This heat must bring them out. Okay, buddy, what’re you doing walking around in the buff?”

“Oh. Am I breaking a taboo? It was hot.” Obsidian vaguely recalled from the classes that there’d been some rule against appearing without clothes.

“Put your hands behind your back. I’m taking you in for indecent exposure.” He snapped handcuffs on Obsidian and led him to the back seat of his patrol car.

* * *

When they got to the station, the cop stood over Obsidian with his gun drawn while the time traveler dressed. He handcuffed him again and led him to a desk. When they were both seated, the cop booted up his desktop and began to interrogate Obsidian. “Name?”


“Is that your first name or your last name?”

“I don’t understand. I’ve had the same name all my life.”

The cop shook his head. “I’ll put down Obsidian Doe. Permanent address?”


The cop sighed. It was going to one of those days. “Where do you live?”


“Oh brother. Did you think that I wouldn’t know that Enceladus is a moon of Saturn? It just so happens that I took astronomy in college.” He squinted at Obsidian. “With that accent, I figure you for an illegal. I guess I’ll have to notify the INS.” He picked up his phone and talked for a while. When he hung up, he said, “The INS guys will be here later this afternoon. I’ll have to put you in a holding cell until then.”

Obsidian pointed to the phone. “May I use your communication device?”

“Okay. You get one call.” He shoved the phone toward Obsidian.

“I’m afraid I don’t know how to use it.”

The cop shook his head again. “Who do you want to call?”

“The tour bus driver at Port Authority.” He figured that he’d try to get the facts of what happened into the thick head of Fifty-Five.

“What’s the name of the tour company?”

“TAC Tours.”

The cop dialed Port Authority and asked about a tour bus with that name. He waited a while and said, “Uh huh,” a few times. When he hung up, he said, “Sorry, your tour left without you — if you’re really with a tour.”

The officer locked him up with a nasty-looking character in ragged clothes. The minute the cop left the area, his cell mate came up and grabbed Obsidian by the collar. “Hey asshole, I don’t like your looks. I should beat you up.”

Obsidian almost messed his jeans. “What? Why?”

“All right, I’ll give you a break. Give me your clothes, and I’ll leave you alone.” Obsidian’s cell mate’s clothes were in much worse shape than his own.

“But... but I was brought in here because I was in the nude. What will they do to me if I get naked again?”

“Don’t be a crybaby. You can have my clothes.”

They exchanged garments.

* * *

A few hours later, the arresting officer took Obsidian to an interrogation room, where two men in dark suits waited. The first said, “Habla español?”


The second man said, “He speaks English. Where are you from, buddy?”

By this time, Obsidian knew better than to say Enceladus. The only two place names he knew were Africa and California. He decided to stick with Africa. “Africa.”

“Which country?”

“Country? I’m from a colony.”

“Quit being coy. What’s the name of the place?”


“Now we’re getting somewhere. Are you from Baja? You’re Mexican?”

Obsidian shrugged.

“C’mon boy. We know you speak good English. Don’t play dumb. The police report has you down as Obsidian Doe. What’s your real name?”

“Just Obsidian.”

“Oh yeah. Where’s your green card?”

Obsidian wondered whether he’d missed something. Had TAC forgotten to give him an important document? “I didn’t get one. TAC didn’t give me one.”

“Who’s Tac?”

“The tour company, Travel Adventure Central.”

“You’re claiming that you were with a tour?”

“Yes. But there was a horrible disaster. The autotraffic system in your city malfunctioned. Several vehicles smashed into our taxi. Our tour director was killed. I was taken to the hospital where they removed... an obstruction from my nasal cavity. I tried to contact the tour bus driver, but he didn’t understand. I tried to take the subway, but got off at the wrong station. Three men attacked me and stole my wallet and loc... wristwatch.”

“You were arrested when you removed your clothes, according to this report.”

“Yes. I forgot about the taboo about appearing in public in the nude.”

The second INS agent said, “Y’know, there was a terrible accident involved with a taxi two days ago. A guy burned to ashes right on the street.”

Obsidian said, “That was Backtrack, our tour director.”

“Maybe this guy isn’t lying. He probably got a bump on the head and that’s why he sounds so kooky. Let me see whether this TAC tours had a tour going day before yesterday.”

He left the room and returned several minutes later. He shook his head. “There’s no such tour company. What should we do with this guy?”

“Well. We can’t deport him unless we know where he came from. Let’s tell the cops that we think that he’s nuts, that he probably escaped from an asylum.”

“Good idea.”

* * *

A few days later, Obsidian was brought to a sanitarium and locked in a room with bars on the window. It finally occurred to him that he was probably going to spend the rest of his life in the horrible twenty-first century — and locked up at that. He broke down and sobbed. That’s how the attendants found him later, weeping in utter despair. One came over and patted him on the shoulder, “Don’t worry, fellow. Doc Rudolf will make everything better. Come. We’re going to see him now for your evaluation.”

The attendants took Obsidian to a room that reminded him of his den at home. It had a comfortable looking sofa and matching easy chair, pleasant pictures on the wall and a plush carpet. Soft music played. A man with a well-trimmed beard, who wore eyeglasses, a bow tie, and a three-piece suit sat in the easy chair. The attendants escorted Obsidian to the sofa and left the room.

The man said, “Hello, Mr....” He checked a folder next to him. “Ah... Doe?”

“Actually my name is Obsidian. I don’t know why that lawman put it down as Doe.”

“Very well, Obsidian. I’m Doctor Rudolf. I’ll be your therapist while you’re with us.”

Obsidian thought back to his memorized phrases. “Congratulations on making my acquaintance. I’m sorry for your loss. How long will I be here? And what’s a therapist?”

“How long depends on you. And a therapist is someone to help you get better.”

“But I’m not ill.”

“That’s yet to be determined. That’s why we’re having this evaluation, to see whether you are ill or not. You see, the people who brought you here feel that you have an illness that is difficult to diagnose by ordinary doctors.”

Obsidian wondered whether this had something to do with his head cold, which was much improved. “I see. How are you going to go about diagnosing my illness?”

“By asking you questions.” The doctor picked up a notebook. “First, I’d like to know where you came from. Where did you live before coming to New York?”

That question again, thought Obsidian. Is this another ploy to get me to reveal that I’m from the future. “California in Africa.”

Rudolf smiled. “Now Obsidian, you know that doesn’t make sense. If you’re hiding your country of origin because you’re an illegal alien, you don’t have to worry that I’ll reveal your secret. Patient-doctor privilege applies. Everything you say to me is strictly confidential. I won’t notify the INS or anyone else. You must tell the truth to allow me to release you from this institution.”

So that was the doctor’s plot; I either have to admit that I’m from the future or remain locked up here. Perspiration dripped from Obsidian’s forehead. It seemed ludicrous to give up his life simply because of a silly rule of the tour company. He wondered what TAC could do to him if he told Rudolph he was from the future. He’d probably broken several of the other rules already. Besides the chances of his returning to thirty-first century were slim.

“I’m from Enceladus.”

“That’s what you told the police officer who arrested you. Are you saying that you’re from a moon of Saturn? How can that be? Are you an alien from outer space?”

“No, if you mean an extraterrestrial, although I’ve met several. I’m from your future.”

Rudolf scribbled a half page of notes before remarking, “So you’re from the future. A time traveler.”

“Yes. A time tourist actually.” He told the psychiatrist the whole story about how he signed up for a tour of the twenty-first century and all the disastrous events that followed. Rudolph practically filled up his notebook.

“I understand. You’re suffering from an obsessive delusion, probably brought on by the traumatic events of the accident. You might also be suffering from schizophrenia. Further tests will be needed to determine that. Meanwhile, you’d better stay with us for a while. I’ll prescribe medications that’ll help you think more clearly.”

He called in the attendants. “Please take Obsidian to his room.” He handed a slip of paper to one of them. “These are the meds I want him on. Also, we’ll need an MRI of his brain.”

“Aren’t you going to let me go?” cried Obsidian. “I told you the truth about myself.”

Rudolf patted him on the shoulder. “Yes, you did. And that’s the first step to getting you well again.”

* * *

After weeks in the mental institution, Obsidian became friendly with an elderly inmate who claimed that he was the famous alchemist, Doctor Dee. When Obsidian asked him how he came to be in the twenty-first century, Doctor Dee replied, “Through alchemy and the help of angels — or perhaps they were demons. You can never be sure which you’re dealing with. Talbert and I discovered that the fifth element may be used in this manner. Alas, I lost the philosopher’s stone and became trapped in this century.”

Since Dee was obviously mad, Obsidian realized that in order to be released he would have to convince Rudolf that he was an ordinary twenty-first centurian. He located books in the institution library on current history and geography. From these he made up a history of himself. Doctor Dee was a great help. He told Obsidian that the people of this time had two names, a given name and a surname. Obsidian kept Obsidian as his surname, and took on Justin as his given name, since it seemed to be popular among the staff.

One day he told Doctor Rudolph, “I’ve stopped deluding myself that I’m a time traveler. I’m simply Justin Obsidian, born and raised in Rochester, New York. After college, I moved to New York City to obtain employment. I was on my way to an interview when the taxi I was riding in had a terrible accident. Much of what happened after that is a blur, but I recall it all, being in the hospital, removing my clothes in public, getting arrested and being sent here. I can’t imagine what caused me to have those insane thoughts and made me act so crazy.”

“You were probably pretty stressed already when the accident happened, Justin. The trauma simply sent you over the edge. I’ll sign your release papers, but I’d advise you to return to Rochester — at least for a few months. Being in familiar surroundings will help you to a total recovery. We don’t want a relapse, now do we?”

“No, sir. I’ll follow your advice.”

“I’ll write a prescription for a tranquilizer. Take a pill at least once a day, more often if you feel stressed.” He rose and shook Obsidian’s hand. “Good luck, Justin.”

Proceed to part 4...

Copyright © 2005 by Joe Vadalma

Home Page