Father’s Monument

– Father’s Monument –

By John C. Wright

*** *** ***

WE watch’d her breathing thro’ the night,

Her breathing soft and low

As in her breast the wave of life

Kept heaving to and fro.

But when the morn came dim and sad

And chill with early showers,

Her quiet eyelids closed—she had

Another morn than ours.

— Thomas Hood (1799-1845)

Table of Contents

*** *** ***

AD 1989


1.     Father’s Delusion

He sat in the shade of the trees at the edge of the cliff, watching the leaves fall slowly, whirling, blowing, dancing down through the air, eventually to fall into the sea. His face was careworn and sad. He neither stirred nor spoke, but sat staring downward, forever down. The time was autumn, and the trees were rich which many colors, gold, scarlet, copper. The sea below was black and green, crisscrossed with restless lines of pure white froth. The air was brisk and smelled of salt.

His name was Phil. His wife, Muriel, had come up the green, grassy path from their odd little old-fashioned house, and walked into the stand of trees where Phil was sitting. Leaves rustled under her footsteps. Her eyes were red with recent tears.

Phil spoke without looking up. “Is he any better?”

She folded her hands tightly around each other. “He asked about the time travelers again. He said—”

“I don’t care what he said!”

“Well, he’s your father, Philo! Not mine! At least you could have come to the hospital with me!”

“I don’t care about what he said about the time travelers. I want to know what the hospital administrator said about the operation.”

“They can’t do anything… they won’t do anything without some assurance of being paid. The government insurance won’t cover an operation like this.”

They were both silent for a time.

After a while, he said softly: “I’ve been sitting here watching the leaves fall down into the sea. The first moment they get free of the tree, some of them swirl up. Look. Almost looks like they’re dancing, doesn’t it? Going round and round. When the wind is coming right up the cliff, they can stay up, oh, I don’t know, maybe ten minutes. Maybe longer. They look like they’ll never come down. But gravity always wins out in the end. They turn into brown wet slop once they hit the water. And they all go down…”

More silence. Muriel sat down beside her husband.

She said, “Did the lawyers ever call back about having the contract set aside? Can we get back the money your father paid out to that metallurgical firm? Any of it?”

“No. They said no. There are no psychiatric records, no evidence that Dad was unfit or incompetent when he mortgaged the house and sold his assets. I’m the only one who knows he believes in the time travelers.”

“So that’s it? There’s no way to raise the money?”

Phil said angrily: “The metals and the other material for the monument are bought and paid for; the company president said he had to develop special furnaces to mold and shape the alloy. Dad paid for it! We can’t get the money back.”

“Can’t we sell that damn metal?” There were tears again in Muriel’s eyes.

“Who would want it? Who in the hell would want it?” And he picked up a handful of the brightly colored leaves lying on the grass beside them and flung them out over the brink.

She changed the subject. “He asked about you again today.”

Phil said nothing. His face was stubborn, sullen. Muriel said angrily: “You’ve got to go see him! He’s your father! If you don’t… how do you think you’ll feel ten years from now? Twenty? What if our kids didn’t come visit you when you were sick, if you ever needed help…?”

“I’ll go,” he muttered.

“What if it was you laying there, with all those machines, and things stuck in your arm…?”

“I said I’ll go! All right?”

“All right! I’m sorry I shouted,” she said softly.

“You never understood what it was like between me and my father.”

Muriel picked up a leaf and toyed with it. She didn’t look at him. “Is that my fault? You never explained it.”

“You know he’s crazy.”

“Maybe. I think he’s sweet. At least he believes in something.”

“And I don’t?” Phil said in a cold voice. “I think you shouldn’t believe in things you can’t see. It offends reason. All the scientific achievements of Western civilization are based on…”

“Are you going to go see your father or not? That’s what offends me. That you would let him sit there in that smelly hospital bed and—”

“I already told you I was going!”

Later that day, Phil was at the hospital getting permission to see his father. It was after normal visiting hours, but the head nurse gave him permission nonetheless. He talked with the doctor briefly beforehand.

As the nurse was walking him towards the room, she filled him in on his father’s condition in a bright, cheerful voice “He’s doing much better today. He even told a joke.”

“What did he say?” Phil asked dubiously.

“Oh, I was asking him about his name. What kind of name is Aggie Quadragesimus, I asked him. ‘It’s from the Forty-Eighth Century,’ he says, just like that. And he smiled so. There was a real twinkle in his eye.”

“Yeah. Yeah. He’s a great kidder.”

She let him into the room. The man in the other bed was asleep, and Phil drew the shabby plastic curtain between the two halves of the shared room.

His father was propped up in the complicated mechanism of the hospital bed. Tubes ran into his arm; a clear plastic tent was erected around the head of the bed. Two oscilloscopes in a rack next to the bed kept up a steady beeping. The smell of medical disinfectant permeated the room.

They had shaved his head, making the white tufts of his eyebrows seem all the furrier and larger, like the false ones on a store-front Santa.

Apparently, his father had been watching television. His eyes were open, and the television on a stand above the door was quietly talking to itself. But Agamemnon Quadragesimus did not speak or move when Phil entered.

Phil stood there for a long, horrid, moment. “Oh, God…” he whispered. I never had a chance to say I was sorry. I never had a chance. Oh, God, please don’t let him be dead.

Agamemnon blinked, his eyes focused. “I am not dead as yet, Philopater. I had entered a secondary level of consciousness, to allow my mental probes to explore the alternate temporal chronoverses congruent to this reality. There is a probability distortion in this timeline, only a few hours or days away. It may be the shockwave of the approaching time-nexus, which is the anachronic vortex created by a destiny crystal intersecting the continuum, forming a gate. However, my powers cannot detect whether it is simultaneous with this time-stream, or if it is entering an alternate probability line. There are additional steps we must take to raise the probability manifold to the threshold energy levels.”

Phil was surprised at how deep and vibrant his father’s voice sounded. He felt a moment of vast relief when he heard his father speak. He sat down quickly in the chair next to the bed, his knees weak. Only then did he realize what his father was saying.

An unreasoning anger took hold of him. Silently he fought it. He gritted his teeth and made himself nod. He forced himself to look understanding.

With a deep breath, trying to hide the effort it cost him, he said casually, “I’ve decided to finish building your latest monument for you, father.”

Agamemnon merely looked at his son silently, with no expression on his face.

Phil shifted uncomfortably in the chair. “I mean… you’ve told me so many times why you build them. So the archeologists in the far future can discover them and get the message, and send back a rescue expedition… right? Well, I’ve decided to help you. We can send your message now. You say they’re coming. Well? I’m… I’m trying to help you. Why don’t you say something?”

“The specialized nerve-ganglia our race uses to probe probability effluvia can sometimes detect the particular time-space reactions created whenever someone lies, Philopater. A lie creates, if only for a moment, a false reality structure. It is an attempt to alter reality.”

“What the hell do you know about reality! Ach! No, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that–”

“I know that, in this reality, the doctor told you to tell me whatever you thought would instill in me the will to live. That doctor amuses me, Philopater. Does he think his primitive brain is a match for the special nerve-consciousness training of a chrononaut from the Forty-Eighth century? He need not worry about my will to live. I expect to be rescued from this primitive era in short order.”

“You shouldn’t have told the nurse you were from the future.”

“I did not sense that it would create any paradoxes or discontinuities. Her destiny will continue along its maximal energy path.”

“They’re going to lock you up in a nuthouse!”

“You disappoint me, son, if your prognosticative neurons are so ill-trained that they cannot distinguish likely from unlikely futures. I’m sorry I was never able to complete your training.”

“I don’t have any super-powers, Dad,” said Phil heavily. “No one does.”

“What about the time when you were coming home on the school bus–”

“Will you stop talking about that already!”

“How do you explain–”

“It was a coincidence!”

“And I’ve told you what coincidences really are. When the Time Wardens meld an alternate line back into the main time-stem, those events and chains of cause and effect which have no explanation in the revised timeline are the consequence of the timelines being soldered together by probabilistic manipulation.”

Phil sat there and listened, his hands folded in his lap, a sinking feeling in his stomach. He thought: Am I going to spend my last time with my father going over this same dumb argument? Over and over again?

*** *** ***

2.     Father’s Deathbed

“Father,” he said slowly, “I want to ask you something. This is not easy. But you know how sick you are. I don’t know how to ask you nicely–”

“Just say it, my son.”

“I’d like to talk to our relatives. Can you tell me what your real name was before you changed it? Who my grandfather and grandmother were? They might want to know, if I have to invite them.”

“I was born Agamemnon Aglaeus Quadragesimus. Your grandparents will not be born for twenty-seven centuries.”

Phil sighed. He sat very still and quiet in his chair, feeling deflated and defeated. “I’m… I’m sorry, father.”

“For what, son?”

“I don’t know. For everything, I guess. For us never getting along. For me never believing you. I’d like to believe in your time travelers, really, I would.”

“Have you ever tried to believe?”

“Now don’t start that again!”

Agamemnon reached out with his hand and feebly squeezed his son’s hand. The strength in his voice was absent from his fingers. His grip was weaker than a child’s.

“We’ve always gotten along, Philopater,” Agamemnon said.

“We always argue.”

“Well, son. Some people get along at a louder volume than others.”

Phil laughed. He was surprised at how good it felt to hear his father speak a normal sentence; a sentence that didn’t have a single word starting with “chrono” in it.

Phil wondered, not for the first time, what his father had been like as a child. Obviously, he had read science fiction. Obviously, he had been hurt by someone, perhaps very badly, or beset by some problem he couldn’t face. And so he had escaped into glossy colored pictures of his favorite pulp magazines, into the world of bullet-shaped rocket ships, of beautiful women in metal brassieres, of tall, golden towers reaching up from the fields of futuristic utopias towards the conquered stars. A perfect, simple, nonexistent world.

Phil shook his head. He could try to understand, but he could not bring himself to forgive his father. Other people had daydreams and wishful fantasies too. But other people didn’t abandon their sanity to cling to their dreams. Other people faced their problems.

His father gently interrupted Phil’s brooding. “Were you in earnest, when you spoke?”

“What? What did I say?”

“That you wanted to believe. Are you willing to try?”


“I suppose not, then.”

“It’s not that,” Phil said. “People can’t believe things by wanting to believe them. Not honest people, anyway. You have to believe what the evidence proves.”

“Time Travelers can’t leave any evidence of their existence. It would create an anomaly. An anachronism. You know that.”

“How convenient,” said Phil. The words came out bitter and sarcastic. Immediately he was sorry. Couldn’t he be polite to his own father?

“Son. Think about it logically. At some point in the future, time travel will eventually be invented.”

“What if it is impossible?”

“If it is impossible in this timeline, it will be possible in another. And if the Time Travelers ever will exist, then they always exist, in any time period, forever. Anything that happens in history happens because it is part of their grand design. It has to be. And no one need ever die. Why would the Time Travelers ever let anyone die? At the final moment, just before death, they can come and perform a rescue. We don’t see them because they freeze time and accomplish all their work in an instant. The dead bodies we see, what we bury and cremate, those aren’t the real people. The Time Travelers enter the time-stream, take a small tissue cell sample, and construct a clone body. The real people are replaced with unliving clones at the last moment, and then are taken away to the far future. It’s a beautiful life there, Philopater. I cannot leave until the probability has been created that you will be coming after me. I am in pain, and I don’t wish to wait any longer. So, please try.”

“Why does it matter what I believe? A thing is either true or it’s not. My belief doesn’t change anything.” Phil hated himself for continuing the argument. He wondered why he couldn’t help it.

“It is simple quantum chronodynamics. If a Time Traveler shows himself to someone who doesn’t believe in time travel, the shock will change that person’s life forever, perhaps in some unexpected way. This could have disastrous repercussions along the resultant time stream. But someone who believes already, for him, a time or place will be found where the revelation would have no changes on belief, and hence no changes to history.”

“But if I build this monument ten years from now, or if my grandson builds it, according to you, the time travelers will find it eventually, and they would have already come back to save you.”

“Until it is done, there is a probability that it may not be done. They would be unwise to attempt a manifestation into the timestream prior to the point of greatest certainty. So, I must lay here, in pain, with these primitive doctors treating me with their backward medical theories, while you drive the point of certainty further into the future every moment you delay.”

Phil was silent.

Agamemnon closed his eyes. He parted his lips, and spoke softly: “The towers of Metachronopolis, the city we have established at time’s far end, lift their museums and gardens high above a world-ocean that has swallowed all the continents of this era. Suspended in the fluid of those waters are the molecule-engines that can rejuvenate my body at a cellular level. I long to see once more the golden towers shine, their crowns higher than the atmosphere. I yearn to bathe in the waters of the Living Ocean.”

Phil sat there sadly, unable to think of a thing to say.

For a time, Agamemnon was silent.

Then he said in a frightened voice, “They haven’t come to rescue me before this because I’ve been doing something wrong. The previous monuments were not made of sufficiently durable materials. I have great hopes for this new alloy. But they are not allowed to come save me until the monument is complete. If they bring me out of this timestream at a point before I complete this monument, then there will be no monument for them to find, and so they cannot come back to bring me out. You understand? The future version of me who has already been rescued will not be allowed to help me unless the law of cause and effect is satisfied. A paradox could destroy the universe. Everything would devolve into null probability… There would be nothing left. Nothing left.”

Phil had never, ever in his life before, seen his father frightened. The sight shook him. He knelt down by the bed. He wanted to take the old man in his arms, but he was afraid to disturb the medical apparatus, to upset the tubes and wires.

“Father, I swear I will complete the monument for you! I’ll finish it. I’ll make sure they find it.”

Very gently, Agamemnon laid his thin hand on the crown of his son’s bowed head. “Yes. I see that you will.”

“It’s not that I believe you, now. It’s just that—it doesn’t really matter to me whether I believe you or not. I’ll do it for your sake.”

“Have you ever wondered why you get so angry about this, my son? Why this is the one topic you can never let rest? No? Well, go home and think about it.”

“If I don’t see you again… I love you, Father.”

Agamemnon smiled. “I am proud and well content with you, my son, and I return your good love. Go now, and when you hear that I have died, believe no such report. In truth, I will not have died. Do not sorrow. We shall meet again in the lawns and gardens beneath the golden towers of Metachronopolis, the City Beyond Time.”

Phil’s eyes stung. “Good-bye, Father.”

“For now. Only for now.”

*** *** ***

3.     Father’s Visitation

Back at the house, Phil found his wife on the porch, fussing with some crates which were piled there next to the porch swing. She had pried some of the boards of one crate away with a crowbar. Beneath the packing-stuff, Phil caught a glimpse of a slab of pale amber metal.

“It’s the monument,” Muriel explained. “A van from the lab brought it while you were out.”

“It’s opened,” Phil said, coming close.

“I know we talked about trying to send it back… but… well, I had to see what it looked like. That alloy. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s beautiful. And what are all these flowing doodles and curlicues? Those lines and diagrams?”

Phil reached into the crate and drew some of the plastic packing material aside. The crate held a number of alloy slabs. The metal glistened and gleamed in the sunlight, like silver water rippling across gold sand. The effect was breathtaking.

Each plate contained the curlicues and swirls inscribed into its surface. Between the swirls were line diagrams showing star positions, perhaps to indicate specific dates.

“Father has some dog-eared notebooks hidden in the attic that are filled with this swirl-writing. It’s supposed to be the futuristic language of the time travelers. Looks like one of those ciphers that school kids make up, doesn’t it? He probably made it when he was a kid.”

“I think it’s nice looking.”

Phil ran his fingers across the burnished surface. The metal was hard, obdurate. The stuff of his father’s dream. It had cost his father his life’s savings to buy, so that there was no money left to pay for the operation he needed…

“I hate it,” Phil whispered. “This thing is going to kill my father.”

Muriel looked at him, her eyes sad, saying nothing.

Phil shook his head. “I promised my Dad today that I would finish his damned monument.”

“Really? Then what’s wrong?”

Phil couldn’t answer. He didn’t know.

Muriel said, “I know what’s wrong. You’re so proud of the fact that you don’t believe him. You think helping him build his monument would be like admitting defeat. And you can’t stand to do that, not after all these years. Not even when it’s his dying wish!”

“Muriel! For God’s sake!”

“Am I wrong?”

“What a terrible thing to say! How could you say that about me?”

“Am I wrong?”

“Of course, you’re wrong! You’re so stupid sometimes I can’t believe it! Do you actually think… You think I would–” Phil found himself shouting. He turned his back to his wife, lips shut, arms folded, clutching his elbows with his hands.

The anger drained out of him. He sighed. “Yes, you’re right. At least, you’re partly right. I always thought that someday, one day, he would admit that he was wrong, that he would tell me he was making it all up. Now would be a good time, considering that he’s dying. But he still can’t admit it.”

Her voice was gentle. “So why does that make you so angry, Philopater? He believes one thing. You believe something else. Why can’t you just let it rest at that?”

“I get angry because…”

“Because what?”

Phil shook his head. “When I was a kid, just a little kid, Dad would tell me stories about this golden city at the end of time. It had wide parks and fountains growing along wide bridges arching between golden towers made of invulnerable energy-metal. Towers taller than any towers in our world. So tall the upper floors were pressurized. The sidewalks were made of crystal and glowed with light at night. All the people were young and healthy. Starships were launched from the tower-tops, and rode on beams of energy, like searchlights, up out into space.

“I wanted it to be true,” Phil said, “And when I got older, and I found out my father wasn’t telling the truth, I felt betrayed. Lying to a child.”

“Get over it,” she told him.

“What? What did you say?”

“Some parents tell their kids about Santa Claus or the tooth-fairy. They grow up. They get over it. You’re grown up. Get over it.”

“But he still believes in the damn tooth-fairy! The goddamned time-traveling tooth-fairies and their chrono-crystals! If he didn’t believe in them, he would have saved his money and been able to pay for the operation, and he wouldn’t be… he wouldn’t be… he wouldn’t be about to die!”

Red-faced, angry, Phil drove his fist down into the packing crate.

When his hand struck the metal of the monument, it gave out a loud, clear, ringing tone, like that of a bell. The note was so clear and pure that Phil stared at his hand in utter surprise, and listened, unmoving, while the echoes hummed and died around him.

Muriel said only, “He doesn’t want an operation. He wants this instead. You don’t have to agree with him. Just help him. Not the way you and I think he needs help. The way he wants it.” She pointed at the exposed metal. “He wants this.”

Phil was silent, staring down at the crate.

“Okay,” he said finally. “Help me drag it out to the site where he wants it put up. Dad picked the spot, up the hill and back from the sea. He even hired a geologist to calculate what would still be above sea level twenty-seven centuries from now. Another waste of money. But that’s the spot. His spot.”

She nodded silently and squeezed his hand.

At about midnight, after they’d been working all afternoon and evening without even a break for dinner, Muriel kissed him goodnight and trudged down the hill to find her house and her bed. By the light of a portable gas lantern Phil watched her depart. Then, he turned. Tools in hand, he kept right on working and working, eyes aching blearily, back throbbing, arms leaden. He worked. He would not stop.

Eventually, he heard birds chirping. Not long after that, the horizon grew pink. The sun came up in a welter of indigo clouds. His head swam with a strange clarity. He had passed beyond fatigue to find a sort of disorienting tranquility of mind.

It was less than an hour past dawn when, finally, he finished. The dew was still thick on the grass, the air was still sweet with the early morning chill.

Phil walked slowly backwards to examine his handiwork.

The monument was shaped like an obelisk, a slim, straight fang of gold-white metal, glinting in the cherry light of the newborn sun like a rosy icicle. On every face of the monument were swirled and curvilinear glyphs, surrounding simple diagrams of circles and lines.

A sudden stabbing pressure shot through Philopater’s head, a sense of tension and release.

Philopater thought, The special cells in my brain must be detecting the shockwave of the continuum discontinuity. A Time Traveler has entered this cross-section of timespace… Then he laughed and lightly slapped himself on the cheek. He rubbed his eyes. “You never get over what your parents tell you, do you?

Phil’s phone was in his pocket. He drew it out and took a snapshot of the monument, thinking to show his father what he had done. Then, since the phone was already in his hand, he decided to call the hospital room and share the news.

The phone rang longer than he expected without answer. He had the sense that something was wrong. The front desk finally picked up the call, but his fears only grew when the front desk transferred the call to the station nurse. The nurse was a young man who explained, in professionally calm, sympathetic tones, that Mr. Quadragesimus was now in the ER. His father’s condition was very serious, but the doctors were doing everything they could possibly do…

Phil did not remember at what point he ended the call and slipped the phone back into his pocket. He had started running before the nurse had even finished speaking. But the path lead down the hill, and curved along the sea-cliffs, where the larches and tall, slim beeches were dropping their colorful leaves into the waters.

There was a man in white standing on the path.

Phil slowed abruptly. The man looked familiar, but Phil did not recognize him. His eyes were large and dark, his head was a whirl of dark hair, and the white garment, constructed from a metallic fabric, fell from broad shoulderboards in smooth drapes, leaving the man’s arms and legs free.

The man spoke. “The one you seek is not dead.”

In a voice hoarse with hope and wonder, Phil said, “Father?”

His father looked so young, so new. He shone with vitality. “But, I thought, in order to see the evidence of time… I thought I had to believe!”

“You believed enough to complete the monument.”

“And that was enough?”

“It was a seed. In the first projection of these events, you will find my old notebooks in the attic, translate the inscription on the monument, and discover that I knew the exact hour and minute of my death. That, in turn, will convince you to study the notebooks and complete your childhood training: you will develop your probability-energy control to a point where your past skepticism is no longer feasible. Your belief will be complete then, and a visitation then would have no time-effect. This meeting, while premature, is merely a shortcut, and hence will not change the recorded future.”

“Father, thank you for being so… so patient with me.”

“Once you become accustomed to knowing the outcome of events, you will find the virtue an easy one to practice.”

“What happens now?”

His father smiled at him. “Life! Life, Philopater! You will live out your span as history reports, without change, except that now you will know, rather than suppose, that the end of life is not as it seems. And, yes, before you ask, my daughter-in-law, my grandchildren, and all of us together shall enter the shining city beyond the reach of time and death. I leave you now, but only for a time.”

The man in white was gone. The moment he vanished, there was a gust of wind, as if a sudden vacuum had appeared in the spot where he stood, and this wind carried some of the colored leaves dancing in the air up away from the sea, up the cliff, over the edge and onto the path.

There was one leaf, a long, slender thing of pale gold color, swirled up from where it had been falling into the dark sea, and landed gently at Phil’s feet.

Phil bent down and picked it up.

Later, after the funeral, Phil tried to explain to his wife why his grief was not so painful.

To his infinite surprise, she believed him.


Here  find another tale from an aeon near or far