Lee stood on top of the concrete parapet, examining the old ruins of a courtyard, trees decades old — sweetgum, redbud, mimosa — splitting the pathway pavers, now covered with green and brown patches — moss and lichen.
Hands in a pair of faded blue denim jeans, he looked up at stone columns, chipped and cracked.
A turkey vulture circled overhead.
Lee sighed. A few minutes earlier he’d found a glass-enclosed bookcase full of handwritten notebooks, most of the ink and pencil scratching barely legible.
A mailing envelope addressed from Troy State University, stamped by the government bulk mail office with a date of May 18 ’97, contained a voting ballot that had been faxed on (TUE) 05.20.1997 16:36:
1997 ALABAMA SPORTSWRITERS BALLOT
AMATEUR ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
Please award 3 points to your first choice, 2 points to your second
choice and 1 point to your third choice.
IMPORTANT: Deadline for voting is MAY 21…fax your ballot to
___ James Cason, Birmingham Southern, basketball.
___ Shalonda Enis, University of Alabama, women’s basketball.
___Tim Hudson, Auburn University, baseball.
___ Pratt Lyons, Troy State University, football.
___Dwayne Rudd, University of Alabama, football.
___ Meredith Willard, University of Alabama, Gymnastics.
1997? Where had the time gone?
Lee had stood on the same parapet in 1997, examining not the ruins of a long-gone civilisation but, instead, the height of victory, himself a sportswriter covering local stories in northeast Alabama, looking for positive, uplifting stories to write about grade school children and their athletic accomplishments despite hardship or because of it.
He made real as an adult the childhood dreams at five years of age of writing for a newspaper.
How many more dreams had he created in youth not yet realised…
He reached for a mug resting on a one-metre tall overturned garden vase and sipped the last of the British tea, a weak concoction squeezed from a teabag that had been steeped too many times to count, the actual flavour of the tea more a memory than a sensation on his tongue, a simple excuse to boil and filter the water before drinking.
Lee sat on the vase and leaned his head back, feeling the sun’s warmth on his face, neck and upper chest, the sunny winter day a respite from weeks of hard snow in north Alabama.
He knew the past and had a heightened awareness of his future, as sharp and clear as a stainless steel knife, an antique cutting device worth more than water in some parts of his home planet, two of which he’d found at the bottom of the bookcase and tucked into his right knee sock.
A sense of calm passed through his body and he smiled.
Although the first few decades of the 21st century had challenged Lee’s sense of place in the universe, he had remained the same, true to himself first and foremost, using humorous deflection and distraction to move obstacles out of his path.
Some days, he did not move at all. A month might pass before he completed a single step.
He accepted the role of chaos in his life without question.
Eventually, he quit questioning why he had chosen a particular route through intertwining and backtracking pathways, trusting his instincts enhanced by experience.
He stood up and turned around, facing the wooded glade that had once been a meditation garden.
Lee bowed in reverence, in deference, in honour, in memory of this place in another time, the end of the last century.
He closed his eyes.
He centered his thoughts, circling them in an imaginary mantra, a sphere that used to serve as an impenetrable shield disguised as personality masks and emotional glue forming the appearance of a logical whole.
Lee meditated upon the misconception of the meaning of time.
He let go of conscious thought as he quietly told himself that time was only the recognition of change, just like taking a smaller or bigger breath would have a ripple effect in his immediate surroundings but little else.
There was a sol when he lived on Earth and looked at a countdown clock showing 13228 days to go.
Lee recalled thoughts of friendships in flux, a constantly interweaving web of changing relationships which spun a cocoon around him that made him feel warm and loved but which he had to keep stepping out of on his quest to get to Mars with the very same friends in the next century.
A leader stays focused on his vision, never letting gravity stopping him from achieving escape velocity when an unexplored galaxy is within his electromechanical cloned arm’s reach.