A short story by Stuart Thaman
My name is George Parker Lincoln. I was born in 1847, only a year after my brother Edward. I remember my birth well – I was there, after all. I wasn’t just there in the way that most people are at their own births, being the crying newborn escaping the womb, but I was also there as an adult. When I was seventeen, I watched my own birth. Time skipping, as my mother named it, has been passed down on the maternal side of my family for eight generations. Fortunately, it ends with me. I had three brothers, William died when he was eleven, Tad died at eighteen, and Edward didn’t live past three. Robert Todd, my older brother, is the only one of us to live past adulthood, and he never showed any signs of time skipping. How do I know he will live that long? I was born in 1847, but I am certain that I will never die.
Mary, my mother, was a sporadic time skipper. With her depression and debilitating migraines, she would slip in and out of the timeline uncontrollably. Sometimes she would be gone for entire days. For whatever reason, time skipping only works when it rains. One day, during a storm in 1858, Mary vanished for more than two weeks. The summer was unusually dry and it didn’t rain until fall. When she came back, her depression worsened. She went into a mania, throwing everything she could and yelling things in a strange language, ultimately being restrained to her chambers for several days until she passed out.
Eliza Ann, my grandmother, died while skipping. She faded out one afternoon during the rain and returned later that night. Her body was riddled with stab wounds. Officially, Eliza died of fever. She was buried in the backyard before the newspapers could find out what really happened and turn the family into a collection of circus freaks. Through my own controlled time skipping, I helped dig the hole for her body.
Of my entire family heritage, I am the only male to inherit the time skipping ability. My mother noticed it when I was six. Scared, I tried to hide it, but one night I accidentally mentioned my father’s work as a blacksmith – before I was born. My mother knew immediately that I had the gift.
Every time it rains, I feel the pull of time confusing my mind. It grips my consciousness and garbles my thoughts, threatening to make me vomit if I don’t lie down. Unless I submit to the clutches of swirling time, I can barely function. After the third skip, I learned how to control it. With help from my mother and very valuable advice from my grandmother that I learned while skipping into the past, I became confident in my abilities. If I closed my eyes and concentrated on an exact time and place, I would show up there. I wasn’t a ghost or a spirit – my body would be there just as it had existed in the normal timeline. I needed to eat, to sleep, I could talk to people and interact, and I could even change things that were yet to come.
The worst part of the gift is that once I visit a time and location apart from my own, I can never go back. Once, when I was fourteen, I skipped as far ahead as I could. I ended up in 1991 at a public library. It was then that I learned that I would not die.
“Do you have any books about Lincoln’s children?” I asked the aloof woman behind the desk. For whatever town I was in, their library was enormous. I made a habit of visiting libraries when I skipped to the future. I would spend as much time as possible reading their newspapers and current events. Until that day in 1991, I never looked at history. I was too afraid of what I would find.
The woman looked over her book and scanned me from behind her thin glasses. I was used to the reaction. Apparently, a hundred and fifty years into the future, my attire was considered bizarre and unacceptable. “It is for a project,” I told her, a line I had memorized for just those situations.
“Uh huh,” she responded, standing from her desk. “Follow me.” She walked to the back of the library and brought me to an entire section of history books. “We only have one biography of Robert Lincoln. I’ve read it,” she explained, handing me the book from the shelf. “It isn’t very exciting.”
Robert was always the popular one. Damn him… “Oh, I know Robert,” I told her, browsing the titles on the shelves. “Do you have any books about Lincoln’s other children?”
The librarian paused for a moment with her hands on her hips. “Didn’t his other kids die when they were young? Why would you want to read about that?”
“I think George Lincoln lives for a long time,” I said casually. “You must have books about his exploits.” The librarian thumbed open the Robert Lincoln biography and flipped to a chart at the beginning of the book. After a moment, she nodded and showed me the page.
“Lincoln never had a kid named George, see?” She pointed to the names of my four brothers, reading them off as she went. “No George.” She smirked and replaced the book on the shelf.
“Alright,” I stammered. So I don’t exist… Or am I never born? Perhaps this isn’t even the right planet. “Thanks for your help,” I whispered to her back as she sauntered to her desk. I felt the rain slowing down in my own timeline. I closed my eyes and waited for the skip to end. My mother explained to me once how to stay in a time after the rain subsides, but I’ve always been too nervous to try it. Before long, the rain in 1864 stopped and I opened my eyes again. I was sitting in a rocking chair in my room, gazing out the dreary window.
April 20th, 1865
My father was shot and killed five days ago. I was there. I was sitting next to Major General Rathbone when it happened. Instead of fighting with the coward that murdered my father like Rathbone did, I fled. I ran out into the street and tried to skip back in time and prevent the assassination. It was drizzling, but not enough for my gift to be of any use.
Five days later, the rain poured from heaven in thunderous sheets that slammed the wooden walls and made the house shake. Perfect, I thought to myself, letting my mind slip. I concentrated on the night of the play, the beginning of the first act, and when I opened my eyes, I was there.
I was in the upper hallway of the Ford Theater. I peered down the corner and saw the police officer, Mr. Parker, leaning against the wall and looking bored. I walked over to him and motioned for him to be quiet. I could hear the play going on the stage. It was just beginning.
“Mr. Parker,” I whispered to him. His expression was one of clear puzzlement.
“Aren’t you…” his hushed voice trailed off as he pointed behind him to the door where I was seated.
“Shhh,” I held a finger to my mouth. “I don’t like this play. Why don’t you head over to the tavern and get a drink, I’d rather watch the door anyways.”
Mr. Parker mulled the idea over in his head for a few seconds before finally nodding. I dropped a few coins in his hand and he left without a word. The idea of getting drunk was obviously far more enticing than guarding a plain wooden door all night.
With the guard gone, I walked to the end of the hallway and sat down, waiting for my father’s murderer. The first act ended an hour later.
I crouched behind a low pedestal that held a bouquet of red and white flowers. My breath caught in my throat – there he was. John Wilkes Booth crept up the staircase with his hands in his pockets. Clutching a pistol, no doubt. My fingers brushed against the cold iron of my own derringer, tucked neatly into my coat pocket and ready to kill.
Booth made it to the door of the presidential suite before I decided to move. His hand touched the doorknob and I burst forth from my hiding spot and drew my weapon. “Die, bastard!” I yelled, drawing my pistol and pointing it right at Booth’s chest.
The actor swung the door open and leveled his derringer at the back of my father’s head. The crowd erupted in laughter at something on the stage. I squeezed the trigger and fired, still running into the suite and shouting for my Father.
Rathbone stood and immediately swung a punch at Booth, knocking him squarely in the jaw. Booth fired and Rathbone screamed, clutching his wounded arm. A split second later, Rathbone was back on his feet and threw Booth over the railing. That’s when I saw it.
My father was slumped over the railing and blood seeped from a brutal wound in the back of his head. Booth’s pistol was on the ground at Rathbone’s feet. My heart fell to the floor. It was my bullet that hit my father directly in the back of the head. I had shot first. Booth’s shot had nicked Rathbone’s arm, not my father’s scalp.
Before I could do anything else, the rain subsided and I was pulled back to April 20th with a violent jolt.
I grabbed the newspaper I kept next to my chair and read the headline. “President Lincoln shot by an assassin; The deed done at Ford’s Theater last night. THE ACT OF A DESPERATE REBEL.” It was the exact same headline I had read thousands of times before.
April 26th, 1865
The rain had begun again. Heavy, cold droplets splattered my arms and soaked my shirt. I sat in the street and let the mud wash over my legs. A member of my father’s cabinet had told me earlier that the army had killed Booth. They got the wrong man, I conceded to myself. The rain picked up and I felt my mind wander without my permission.
One last chance, I thought, holding onto a vial of poison like a dying man scratching at his noose. Without warning, time skipped and brought my sodden body to a place I didn’t recognize. I had tried to go back only a few months, to poison Booth’s coffee at the theater, but my concentration was too muddled by grief to properly focus.
The house I was in was remarkably plain. The windows were leaded and barely let in any light. Above me, I heard footsteps creaking along the floorboards. Small puffs of dust fell from the ceiling onto my head. “The baby is kicking,” I heard a voice call. It was my mother’s voice, of that I was sure.
“I’ll be right up with your tea, Mary,” an elderly woman responded from the room adjacent to the one I was in. “I just put Edward down to sleep.”
It must be 1847, I decided. My mother is pregnant with me. I knew I wouldn’t have much time to act. I rushed to the door in the direction of the elderly woman’s voice and slipped into the kitchen. A silver tea set was laid out on a matching tray at the edge of the table. The elderly woman cooed and calmed my little brother’s cries in the next room.
I took the vial of poison from my soaked coat and measured out a third of the dose I had brought to kill Booth. With a guilt-ridden sigh, I poured the small amount of poison into the teapot and replaced the lid. I crept out of the kitchen and listened as the elderly woman picked up the tea and brought it to my mother.
The rain in 1865 settled to a gentle patter and started to pull my mind back to my own timeline. I never made it.