The first time Caleb goes on a trip, it stops him from doing something stupid.
If he'd yelled at that kid—okay, probably more than yelled—he could have gotten in trouble at school. Which wouldn't have been so bad, but you only get so many strikes before they won’t let you be on a sports team, and he doesn’t know what he would have done then.
Regardless, one moment Caleb is standing in the hallway at school, fuming, and the next he is standing in an empty field. It's like something out of some pastoral painting, brightly-colored flowers dotting the hillside.
"What the hell?" he says aloud. The words echo into the distance.
The wind buffets the grass. There isn't another living soul around. He takes a breath.
Is he dreaming, maybe? Unconscious? Or, like, hallucinating? He kicks at the grass. That’s a pretty worrying idea. It feels real. It feels too solid to be a dream. And his thoughts are too lucid, the world around him sharp and clear.
So what the fuck is going on?
And then, as quickly as it happened, he's back. The kid in front of him is staring at him, eyes wide.
And as Caleb turns to leave, he realizes that they’re not the only one staring.
"You just disappeared?" the therapist asks.
"I guess," Caleb mutters. "I mean, that's what everyone said." Caleb had not wanted to go to therapy. Yeah, he knows, there's nothing wrong with getting help, all that shit, but he doesn't think he needs help.
Yet here he is.
Someone from school had recommended Dr. Bright to his parents, after the rumors about what had happened the other day started to circulate. She was supposed to be able to help people with "unusual abilities," whatever the hell that meant.
"You didn't notice anything unusual about the moment?"
"What happened, from your perspective?"
His instinct is to not tell her. What happened was weird, and embarrassing, and, frankly, random, but she already knows the weirdest stuff.
"I was in... another place?" Caleb says. "Some sort of empty field."
"You didn't see anyone, hear anything unusual?"
She doesn't immediately ask another question, so Caleb says, "Do you... know what that place is?"
"Caleb," she says, "you know what I do, yes? My... specialization?"
"Unusual abilities,” he says, “whatever the fuck that means."
"It means exactly what it sounds like," Dr. Bright says. "Many of my patients have, let’s say highly atypical abilities, which often seem to defy many of the known laws of physics or biology."
Caleb stares. ”So, what, like, superpowers?"
Dr. Bright sighs. ”I suppose you could call them that."
That wasn't exactly the answer he was expecting. "Wait, you’re saying I have a superpower, and that that superpower is spontaneously disappearing to an imaginary field for a couple of minutes?"
"Do you have any real reason to think it was imaginary?"
Caleb doesn’t answer right away. He hadn’t really consciously considered it. The field had seemed enough like something out of a dream that it seemed the simplest explanation that he had disappeared from reality for a while. But that isn’t the simplest explanation at all.
"You think I teleported there?"
"It's definitely a possibility, yes."
Dr. Bright smiles.
She goes on to ask a few more questions about the incident: what he was doing at the time, what he was thinking about, whether anything similar had happened before. None of it makes sense, though. The event still seems entirely random to Caleb.
Eventually, their hour is up, and he stands from the chair and leaves, the conversation still tumbling through his head. He still isn't entirely sure he believes that this is some sort of "ability" like she says. But if it is, then... Well, he doesn't really know what to think of that.
His mom is waiting in the car outside by the time he leaves the building, and as he slides into the passenger seat she asks him, "How did it go?"
"Fine, I guess," he says.
He doesn't say anything else in response.
One of Caleb's teachers moves a test a day up, because of some scheduling conflict he couldn't be bothered to listen to them explain. He'll have to study after practice now, and he'll probably have pretty much no free time in the evening. He could blow it off—he probably will—but he already has a C in that class and if he fails another test, his parents might start to get on his case.
Basically, it's bullshit. This is what Caleb is thinking about as he gets onto the bus, because it is really and truly bullshit.
The bus disappears from around him. It's sharp, and sudden, and he stumbles backwards in surprise.
He is not in a field this time.
Skyscrapers rise up around him, a huge cityscape covering every direction he looks. It doesn't look like his town, either—he doesn't know what city it is. Caleb is standing on the sidewalk, crowds of people moving to either side of him.
He just teleported again, didn't he?
This would be a lot cooler if he had literally any control over when he left and where he went. As is, it's mostly just annoying. But there wasn't really anything to do about that just now. He’s here. It isn't as if the bus is the most thrilling place to be, anyways.
Where is he? This city isn’t like any place he recognizes. There's something off about the architecture of the buildings, or something. Or, Caleb realizes, something off about the people. Their clothes, at any rate. He doesn’t exactly have an eye for fashion, but...
Well, the first question he can answer easily enough. Caleb steps to the side, leans against the nearest building, letting the pedestrians pass him by. He pulls out his phone. No connection. Which is strange, if he just hopped over to a different city. But he's starting to doubt that.
So instead, Caleb walks down the sidewalk, looking at the street names but taking no meaning from them. There has to be something with his location on it, somewhere.
There's a news stand off to his right, and he glances at it—a local paper could have the name of the city. It's the New York Times, though, which doesn't telling him anything definite. Except—
The date on the paper is printed clearly at the top: June 19th, 1968.
He time traveled. He fucking time traveled.
Caleb walks the city a little while. He doesn't know how to get home, so there's not much else for him to do. Last time he just popped back eventually, and he has to hope that’ll be the case this time too. People don't seem to react to his presence, and he isn't entirely sure if that's because he manages to blend in, or if there's something about his—well, his power, that means he avoids notice.
It's sort of boring, really. He checks his phone to see how much time has passed, but it reads the same as the last time he checked, at least half an hour ago. If he's gone back in time, that's probably for the best. He doesn't want to have to think about resynchronizing if—when—he gets back.
"Time travel?" Dr. Bright asks. "You're quite sure?"
"I guess?" Caleb says. "I mean, I don't know. Is that, like, too weird?"
"Not at all," she says. "It's just... impressive. I've never heard of a time traveler who could physically go back to the past."
"I'm not really sure I could," Caleb says. "I thought I was imagining it at first, but now I think—I think the people there couldn't see me? Like, I could see all this stuff, but I wasn't actually there. Does that make any sense?"
"It does," Dr. Bright says. "How has your week been other than that?"
He takes more trips. They seem random, at first—places and times he's never been. Sometimes it's far enough that they speak a different language, and he has no real hope of knowing what's going on around him, what the time period is except in broad strokes.
But there are a few that stand out. The week they start talking about the Renaissance in history, he winds up somewhere in Italy. He winds up in ancient Rome as he steps out of his Latin classroom (he understands maybe one word in a thousand of the actual authentic Latin). His sister is telling him about a fantasy book she's reading, and the next day he winds up in medieval Europe.
It isn't hard to connect the dots.
Explaining everything to his sister is an odd experience. His parents had been kept more or less up to date by his muttered answers to questions, but they hadn't made him tell Alice yet. He does it of his own accord, eventually.
"You're making that up," she says, at first.
"No, I'm not."
He can't, of course. He can't seem to go on these trips intentionally, no matter how confidant Dr. Bright is that he'll learn to control it in time. So all he says is, "Think what you want," and for the moment that's the end of that particular conversation.
He's in England, he thinks. At any rate, they're speaking English, weirdly-accented though it is. It's all Shakespearean sounding. It’s almost comical to hear a real person say "thou" out loud. The conversation itself, though, isn't very interesting. People's everyday interactions can really be incredibly boring, but all he can do on these trips is watch, and listen, and so he's stuck doing that.
Caleb wanders away from the people he’d been listening to and finds himself in a little village square. He'll see if he can cover the whole town before he leaves—something to keep him occupied.
"Hey!" shouts a voice from behind him, cutting through the noise of the crowd. ”Hey, you!"
Caleb turns—out of curiosity, to see what’s going on—and chasing after him is a boy about his own age, wearing far-too-modern clothes.
He comes to a stop a few feet away from Caleb and smiles.
"You can see me?" Caleb says, because he has no idea what else to say.
"What do you think?”
That’s a yes, then. This random person who’s clearly from Caleb’s time just happens to be in this old -timey British village at the same time as him, and he’s smiling at him in a way that makes Caleb’s stomach do summersaults.
"But are you, like…” What do you even say in this situation? “Are you also a time traveler?” Then, “Jesus, that sounds ridiculous.”
"Yes on both counts, I suppose."
Caleb doesn't say anything.
"I've never run into anyone else from my time while... away," the other boy says after a moment. "Wait, you... you are from my time, right? 2016?"
"Uh, yeah," Caleb says. "God, I don't think I could take it if we were both time traveling from a different year."
Another pause. They are standing in the middle of this 18th-century village, and all around them people are moving on with their lives, oblivious to their presence.
"So, uh, what's your name?" the boy says.
"Nice to meet you, Caleb," he says. "I'm Adam.”
Caleb thinks of mentioning the encounter to his parents, later, but isn’t quite sure how to broach the subject. He’d disappeared before he and Adam could have anything like a conversation—but still! Another time traveler! What were the odds of that, even? That in all of time and space, they’d just run into each other?
All of which to say, that he’s a little less hesitant than before on the way to therapy. Because he’s got to tell someone about this, and hey, that’s Dr. Bright’s job, right?
“You met another time traveler?”
“Yeah,” Caleb says. “Is that… is that something that happens, normally? Is there this whole social circle of time travelers just, like… running into each other?”
“I can’t say that I know,” Dr. Bright says. “It isn’t entirely impossible.”
He can’t help but be a little disappointed; he’d thought Dr. Bright might have answers, somehow, but he isn’t really sure what questions he’s looking for answers to. It’s just that it hadn’t occurred to him before that there were other people out there like him.
Weeks pass. Caleb flounders through school, through football, through trips to far-off times and places. And then, halfway through passing period, he trips over someone’s leg in the midst of the crowded hallway and falls straight into the past.
Caleb gets back to his feet, muttering curses under his breath, and when he looks up that same small, ancient-England town where he’d met Adam is spread around him. He’s nowhere to be seen, now, though; there’s no reason to think he would be here, again.
This is the first time Caleb’s had a repeat trip, though. It’s still an obnoxious interruption to his day, but it’s also… sort of cool.
He walks through the town, taking the same route as last time. Voices drift by all around him, discussing inane things that have nothing to do with him.
Halfway to the village square, Caleb stops. Across the road (if it can even be called that), amidst the crowd of townspeople, there’s a boy about his age wearing a black T-shirt.
What the hell are the odds?
“Adam!” Caleb shouts. Adam turns, makes eye contact with him. “Hey, you!”
“I was starting to think I’d hallucinated you,” Adam says as Caleb approaches him.
“It’s not like I can exactly come back to this place whenever I want to,” Caleb says.
“You…“ Adam looks at him. “I’m here a lot, personally.”
Caleb raises an eyebrow. It sounds anything but quiet just about now.
“Well, not here,” Adam says. And then, after another moment: “Come on.” He sets off in one direction, and Caleb, with few other options, follows him. “I have to say, I’ve never met another time traveler before.”
At one point, while they’re walking, Adam brushes against him, and it’s so slight Caleb wouldn’t ever have noticed except that he’s fairly sure he goes through him. Adam doesn’t even react, but Caleb can’t help but be a little freaked out by the unreality of it: even though they’re both from the future, apparently, the physical rules of the past still apply. It’s unnerving.
Adam takes him outside of the town, to an empty field dotted with nothing but trees and a wandering sheep or two. And he’s right. It is quiet. Quiet in a way the modern world never is.
For a moment, neither of them speak.
“So,” Caleb says, finally.
“This is… kind of weird.”
“Just a little, yeah.”
“How long have you known about your… your powers?” Even as Caleb says it, it sounds ridiculous. He’s making awkward small talk with this kid, about time travel superpowers. How is this his life?
“Since freshman year, I think it was?” Adam says, stopping to take a seat on the ground. “I’m a junior now.”
“Wow.” Caleb sits, too, although sitting in the grass under a tree feels almost too picturesque to be real. Maybe that makes it all the more fitting, for their too-weird-to-be-real situation. “I mean, I’m a junior this year too. But all this stuff”—he gestures at the space around them—“is new. As of, like, a few months ago?”
“Wow.” It’s Adam who says it this time. “Are you, like, coping okay with it?”
“I guess?” It feels weird to talk about it like this. With his parents it was always colored by their concern, and with Dr. Bright… Well. But with Adam it’s casual. He’s done this, too. “I mean, I keep worrying I’m gonna, like, disappear in the middle of a football game or something, but otherwise it’s… weirdly normal, at this point.”
“Oh my god,” Adam says, “I can’t believe I’m sitting here talking about atypical abilities with a football jock.”
Caleb makes it back there again about a week later, and this time he doesn’t hesitate before he goes looking for Adam. He finds him back in that same field, by that same tree. They talk more about their powers; Adam, he discovers, is a mental time traveler—he doesn’t physically disappear when he goes on these trips. Caleb is a little bit jealous of the idea. (“Don’t be,” Adam tells him, “I nearly failed freshmen English because I kept ‘falling asleep’ during class.”)
He comes back the next week, and the next. At first, it’s just when something sets him off, the same with his early trips. Somehow, some weird part of his brain is able to direct his power towards Adam’s field. But Dr. Bright has been trying to get him to have a go at traveling intentionally, and, well, he’d be lying if he said it wouldn’t be nice. So during one of his sessions, he sits there with her and tries to picture that field: the trees, the grass, the village in the distance. Tries to clear his mind, or whatever, although he’s still not convinced that’s really a thing he can do—
And it works. Caleb opens his eyes in the field, except that Adam’s not there. Caleb walks down to the town square to be sure, but he already knows—it’s the same place. Just one person emptier.
Still, when he tries it again on his own, a few days later, Adam is back. Caleb tries to tell himself not to be stupid about it: it wasn't anything he did, it’s just that Adam has a life outside of time travel. Just like he does.
They talk. Adam tells him about his favorite music and Caleb tells him about football, and they compare time travel stories (Adam’s are better than his) and at some point their conversations become the favorite part of Caleb’s day. At some point, they start becoming a part of every day.
Dr. Bright seems to approve, when he tells her. Says it’s good that he’s making friends with another atypical. (Adam used that word, he remembers. He makes a mental note to ask him about it.) Caleb’s getting better at taking intentional trips, although he’s still ignoring her suggestions that he try a different target location. He’s busy, is all. He doesn’t have the time for useless exercises.
Getting to his last period class is always an ordeal, because the stairs to the second floor, where the math classrooms are, is always packed tight with kids. Today, Caleb fights his way through. He makes it out onto the top, and walks straight into someone going the other way, knocking the other kid a few steps backwards by the force of his movement, and Caleb feels sort of bad, but he needs to keep moving, and—
And then he sees the face of the boy he knocked into, who’s still pressed up against the wall, collecting himself, and Caleb sort of forgets everything else.
Adam meets his gaze, and his eyes widen. Caleb runs through a million conversations in his mind—how is that they never once discussed where they went to school? Where they lived?
“Caleb,” Adam says, and it’s half a question, uncertain.
“Oh my god,” Caleb says. “Oh my god, how did we—?” Someone else shoves between them, trying to get through, and then Adam is gone, headed down the stairs. Caleb stares after him, and, with slow, reluctant steps, heads to math.
He sits through class, still not believing. He considers trying to go on a trip, but people would see if he disappeared. He doesn’t register much of anything that the teacher is saying.
He tries to look for Adam after class, but he only has something like ten minutes before practice. There’s no time. (It’s probably ironic, that the two time travelers can’t find the time to meet.)
It’s the next day, during lunch—the only actually significant chunk of free time during the school day—that Caleb finds him. He’s sitting alone, in the back of the cafeteria, and Caleb wonders for the millionth time how he never noticed he was here.
Caleb drops his bag and sits down at the table. Adam looks up from something on his phone. (Caleb has never seen him with modern technology before, and there’s an odd sort of dissonance to it.)
“Hey,” Caleb says.
Adam smiles. “Hey.”