Past Perfect

Sounds of bomb exploding. A city under siege. A little boy watched from a narrow crack in the closet in which he hid. He could hear his heartbeat sounding like drum beats in the confined space. Sweat beads formed in his forehead. Complete silence was broken by sounds of creaking wood made by approaching footsteps of the men in uniform. The uniforms had a strange insignia printed on them. Behind the thick wooden doors, he could hear the muffled voices of his parents. His parents being dragged to a place from where no living soul returned. Thoughts like what had his parents done so horribly wrong to deserve such a treatment hounded him. And then a flash of light broke his chain of thoughts. A hand reaching for him, his captors had found his hiding place! He was going to meet the same fate as had thousand others or may be millions. He was too little to count beyond 10.

“Gaby! Dear, wake up. You don’t want to be late.”

Suddenly he realized it was all a dream-a nightmare to be exact. The hand that he saw was not of the captors but his beloved wife’s taking off his blanket, the flash of light had been the morning sun rays now streaming through the window which Kate had opened few moments earlier. Pillows wet from perspiring, the nightmares had been a regular feature of his childhood.

Gabriel who was going to turn fifty next month had a searing pain in his head when he got up, courtesy the nightmare.

“Baby, why don’t you have an aspirin and take the day off?” said Kate with concern in her voice.

Gabriel and Katherine had been happily married since 15 years. Gaby loved Kate more than anything in this world but there was a side of him which he had hid from her.

“No, Kate. Work is work. Your prince charming is fine.”, he said with a wink and gulped the water along with the pill. This was the day Gaby was waiting for all his life, at least since that fateful night. “Tonight I shall have my revenge. I shall rewrite history. “, he thought.

Katherine was now used to Gaby’s lies. No matter how hard she would coax him, asking him about his whereabouts after office hours, he won’t say. But she knew her Gaby may be many things, but he was not a cheat. Very well aware of his troubled past, she was never hard on him.

Gabriel took a quick shower, had his breakfast and kissed Kate. He always did that before leaving. But today the kiss was different, Kate felt that. But she brushed aside her feelings and hugged Gaby goodbye.

Gabriel was exceptionally talented. Add to that his steely determination, he had a very successful academic and professional career. He worked for European Space Agency as an astrophysicist. The kind of success he had achieved at his age was unheard of. But today he was not driving to the ESA headquarters. Instead he was heading to a secret underground facility which housed his lab.

Gabriel had been nursing a plan for many years now. He had managed to keep it a secret from everyone, not even Kate knew about it.

After an hour of driving, he had finally reached his destination. An abandoned factory in the outskirts of Paris.  He checked himself in the rear view mirror, his eyes filled with the steely determination of a man possessed.  Unlocking the big gates, he hurried towards his lab. Time was of essence.

The lab was dimly lit and had gadgets of all kinds, like the ones people saw in movies. But this was no fiction. This was real. Placed in the center of room was a cylindrical glass chamber. No ordinary glass chamber, though. Gabriel walked towards it, placed his palm on a sensor. There was a swishing noise and the glass door slid open the next moment. He had imagined this moment a zillion times. But still he felt a tinge of nervous excitement.

The inside of the chamber had futuristic electronic controls and a screen flashing a message.

Time :
Destination :

What humankind had always dreamt of, Gabriel had made it a reality – lo and behold – a TIME MACHINE!! Gabriel had been working on it for almost 30 years now. He had almost given up 10 years ago but then he finally stumbled upon the missing part of the equation. Thereafter began the process of building the real thing and tonight if everything went well his dreams shall transcend reality. He would rewrite history, not just metaphorically but actually!

Gabriel typed on the screen.

Time : 03-05-1942
Destination : Berlin

It was the year of 1987 and in a minute he will be transported back to 1942. The nightmares that Gabriel saw every night was that of the holocaust. Millions of Jews including his father and mother put to their death in gas chambers just because of their race. A genocide of humongous proportion.

Gabriel stood there lost in the past. Collecting his thoughts, he slowly raised his finger to press the glowing red button marked “ENTER”. Even in the chill of winter, he had sweat beads on his forehead. And then he did it. Loud hissing followed by absolute silence. A portal appeared out of nowhere.

Whatever Gabriel had planned to do; he will have to do it an hour. There would be no portal after that for him to return to the present. And whatever happened in the past will impact the future. If Gabriel died in 1942, there would be no Gabriel in 1987.  Gabriel knew all this very well. The stakes were very high. He remembered Kate’s face and thought to himself he had to be successful. Gabriel checked for the revolver in his pocket. It was for the Fuhrer! And then VAMANOS! He was in the portal.

Sounds of frantic footsteps. Gun shots being fired. A man was being chased. He had shot the Fuhrer!

Gabriel was running as fast as he could. Killing Hitler was not as difficult as he had thought to be but getting away with it was a different matter altogether. Add to that he was just minutes away from the portal closing forever. He took off his jacket and threw it on the street as it was slowing him down. In the distance he could see the portal. A bullet grazed past his right shoulder. He scampered through in time, mostly unharmed.

When he came out of the portal on the other side, Gabriel felt like an accomplished man. He had done the impossible. No more was the thought of fulfilling his lifelong desire haunting him. He remembered about Kate. An hour in the past meant a day in the present. Kate must be worried for him, Gabriel thought and hurried towards the exit. But when he stepped out of his lab onto the tarmac, he couldn’t believe his eyes. The city he knew was no more there. Finding it odd, he got in his car and drove. To his horror, the once liberal city of Paris known for its pluralism, a melting pot for people from all walks of life ceased to exist. In its place was what seemed like a Nazi colony. Scores of guards wearing the Nazi symbol of Swastika were patrolling all around the city. His nightmares had turned into reality! Realizing it was no longer safe to be in the car, he got down and trotted along stealthily towards his house.

On reaching his neighborhood, he saw that everyone was being held captive in their respective households. He waited behind a car for the guard standing in front of his house to lose his attention for a while. And he did, only for the slightest moment, but that was enough for Gabriel to jump over the fence. He was in. But he was not sure what should he expect to find there. “Will Kate be alright? Will he see his parents? “, thoughts like this filled his mind. Suddenly a familiar voice snapped him back to reality. It was Kate’s voice. “Honey, where had you been?  We were so worried for you.  “

“Gaby, you have been shot!!”, she was about to scream when Gabriel put his hand on her mouth and pacified her. Gabriel had not realized he was shot. Things had been happening too fast for him to notice.

“I am all right, Kate”, he assured her. “But…”, Kate was beginning to speak when Gabriel interrupted her. “Where are mom and dad?”, he asked. “They are fine. They are in the other room.”, she answered sounding confused.

Gabriel heaved a sigh of relief. He had managed to save his parents. But the relief was short-lived when he remembered the absolute mayhem in the city. He knew somehow that he was responsible for all of this and the thought of this sent a chill down his spine. He looked at Katherine and spoke, “I will explain it to you all. I just need to figure out something first. Can you get me a glass of water?”

Kate nodded her head, still confused and got up to get some water. In the meantime, Gabriel’s mind was bugged by the question, “What had made the course of history to change so dramatically?” He started looking for his cellphone. And then it struck him like a bolt from the blue. The jacket he threw had the cellphone in its pocket. Apparently, the Nazis had recovered it, reverse engineered its technology and had made great strides militarily. This had led to the Axis powers winning the 2nd World War instead of the Allies and now the whole of Europe was colonized by them. He dashed towards his reading room to corroborate his theory. He was right! The Axis powers had indeed won the war.

“Oh, Lord! What have I done?”, Gabriel sighed. His head was spinning now. He was feeling dizzy and feeble on his feet.

By the time Katherine arrived with the glass of water, Gabriel knew what he had to do. He gulped the water down his throat. “I will be back. Take care of yourself. “, he said and fled before Kate could say anything.

Gabriel hurried towards a car, jacked it making sure no one was noticing him. He sped to his lab. He had to stop himself from going to the past. And for that he had to use the time machine for one last time.

Tires screeched and before the car could come to a halt, he was out of it. He dashed towards the glass chamber, punched in the time and place. He was gone again.

An exhausted and weary man comes out from what looked like some sort of portal. On getting out he picks up an iron rod in the room and starts breaking the glass chamber.

Gabriel destroyed the work of his entire life. He had learnt his lesson. The past should not be tinkered with. Whatever happened, happened for a reason.

He came out of his lab to find the city he loved so much, intact. He breathed the fresh air, turned on the ignition. He felt something buzzing in his pocket. It was his cellphone. He took it out to find a text from Kate. He had a faint smile on his face, knowing what he held in his hands had at one time changed the entire course of history. Engines revving, he started for his home, to his love, to his Kate.



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