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  Table of contents Issue Twenty-one THE INVENTOR



om Garrett saw the first stranger on Tuesday afternoon.

Garrett stood in the doorway of his cabin, his cart behind him. The unknown young man looked up from Garrett’s journal. He was dressed entirely in black. In the shadows of the room, he seemed shapeless.

“You’re Thomas Mark Garrett,” the young man said in wonder.

“You're trespassing.”

“I'm only looking.” The young man gazed at the journal again, reached out as though to touch it and then stopped and said again, quietly, “I'm only looking.”

“Get out,” Garrett said. “I've got work to do.”

The young man said, “Yes. Of course.” And then, glancing at him once more: “Thomas Mark Garrett.”

Then, he disappeared.


Garrett stood in the same place for several minutes. His eyes tracked the room, looking for signs of the stranger. A trick? A hallucination? Garrett considered each option carefully. Then, before the image could fade from his memory, he sat down and sketched what he could remember of the young man. The odd shapeless form, the words he had spoken. And then, a final detail:

Wasn't sweating.


Garrett’s cabin was in a forest of sharp, dense pines five miles from the town of Beauford, Montana. One would never imagine his cobbled home surviving a winter, let alone believe it had already seen twenty. But Tom Garrett had built it, and the things Tom Garrett built did not fail.

In Beauford, a man could be left alone as long as he kept to himself and didn’t hurt anyone. Tom Garrett did that just fine. He owned his land and paid his taxes and was seldom seen.

Only the Credit Union had direct dealings with him. On the first Thursday of each month, the check from the state arrived in his post office box, and he would take it over to the bank to cash. Each month it was the same. The signed check was pushed across the desk by a hand covered in dirt and half-healed scratches and scrapes, as though Garrett got to town by crawling through wire. His blue eyes never rose to meet the teller’s behind the counter. He simply took his bills and folded them with dirty fingers, pushing the wad haphazardly into the breast pocket of his faded and fraying flannel shirt. The bank slip would be left on the counter. New tellers would invariably say, “Mr. Garrett – your receipt!” If he gave any notice at all, it was only to shake his head. He didn't want receipts. He had his money.

People in town sometimes asked each other, seeing him shamble by with his cart and collected metal scraps: Who was Tom Garrett? Where had he come from? What did he do?

He was ex-military. Desert Storm. PTSD.

He was a sex offender.

His family had tragically died in a fire.

His family had died in a fire he set for insurance money.

He was thirty years old.

He was sixty-five.

He lived off of food found in the trash.

He ate roadkill.

He was crazy.

He was dangerous.

He was harmless.

If anyone had thought to ask Garrett, he would have told them: He was an inventor.


Town was where Garrett collected what he needed for his work.

Tuesdays were trash day. Garrett walked into Beauford in the early morning, dragging his empty cart along. People threw out the most incredible things: electronics, tin, jars, wiring, batteries, cardboard, tools. Some weeks he had to take several trips to gather all of the treasure from the large green dumpsters in the downtown alleys.

The store owners in town allowed it. Harmless enough, they thought. Saved them the trouble of worrying about recycling. Instead of paying the transfer station, they could leave trash at their back doors for Garrett to salvage.

Most importantly, Garrett didn't try talking to anyone. He didn't leer at women or pay any attention to children, even when groups of them would openly stare or throw insults. Once, young Jimmy Macklin added rocks to his shouts until Caleb Nichols socked him in the ear and told him to cut the shit. Because you see, Garrett himself wasn't a threat to them. He was a ghost, a phantom; vaguely unsettling but not to be feared. Garrett had been there forever. He would never hurt anyone.


The storage shed next to Garrett’s cabin was built in the same haphazard manner. Inside, piles of rubbish filled the room to the ceiling. When Garrett returned from town, he sorted new finds for future projects into their proper corners. He had to walk on top of shifting metal and wiring to reach each side of the room.

The cabin was in a similar state of calculated disarray. Current projects were spread out along the floor. The table and thin futon mattress had to be cleared each time Garrett wanted to write or eat or sleep. Towering against the wall, a sprawl of boxes held twenty years’ worth of carefully numbered journals. Each journal was filled with meticulous diagrams and formulas of what he planned to build. Some entries veered into rages against people who had wronged him: his father, teachers, store clerks, landlords from the years he had tried to live in the city on his own. Women. An autobiography hid in these journals. One which, if shown to the people of Beauford, may have changed the fate of their town.


Garrett had been an attractive young man. Strong jaw, lake-blue eyes under dark, thick lashes. A curse. Girls were intrigued, thinking some soulful, hidden depth waited inside of his disapproving silence. Adult women fawned over him. It didn't help that his mother was dead. God, how women were drawn to boys with dead mothers. He rebuked them all. Girls bored him. Humans bored him.

At least men left him alone. Men hated him. Male teachers felt threatened by his good looks and intelligence. They often punished Garrett for these things he couldn’t control.

Garrett was dismissed from college after an incident three months into his first semester. A forced meeting with a counselor. Diagnosed bi-polar; borderline personality. Unfit to work. Mentally ill. Money from the state. Pills he wouldn’t take. His father died and left more money, enough for Garrett to purchase the land in Beauford and build his cabin. Enough to survive and start in earnest on his work.

And what was this work? Anything. Everything. Often unfinished as a new idea gripped him. Garrett’s land was covered with rusting, confused piles of circuitry and machinery. Half-made dreams. To Garrett, they were all successes. They were all leading to the final project. The big one.


In the brutal heat of summer, Garrett began a new project. This one would change everything. He could feel it in his hands as he worked, in the ever-present buzzing in his head. Even in sleep, he felt himself working toward something. The cabin was stifling, the air thick, resisting movement and breath. Somehow this inspired. He was working against every force that had ever tried to slow him down.


More strangers appeared.


Garrett became used to them. Unlike the first, they never spoke. They were young and predominantly male. They dressed in the same dark shirts and skirt-like pants. On occasion, Garrett would sketch one while they stood in front of him. This delighted them. One girl clasped her hands to her chest and said, “Oh, I could die,” and instantly disappeared.

When Garrett took trips to town, these young people lined the sides of the dirt road to watch him go. When he woke, they stood around his futon mattress.

One morning, in a flash of understanding, he realized who they were and, more importantly, what their presence meant: His project was going to be a success.

They were coming to watch him, just as countless others were gathering through time to watch Da Vinci and Galileo. Edison and Tesla. Franklin and Ader. History was now a living thing. The people coming to him wanted to see how it all started. They wanted to see the man who planted the seeds of time travel.

Thomas Mark Garrett.


He was close. More strangers watched him each day, the room thick with black-clad bodies. He worked feverishly, sleeping where he sat, starting again the moment he woke.

When he detailed the testing plans in his journal, the strangers gave approving gazes and smiles. When he visited the spot, he found a gathering of dark youths already assembled like children at a carnival.

On the morning of the test, it took three trips into town to move the device. As the sun broke into the sky, Garrett finished setting up in the field behind the municipal building. The air was already dense with heat. His sweat-drenched clothes stuck to him, his hair matted to his head.

He sat on the grass and waited, thinking of the people of Beauford just beginning to wake, no idea of the historic event about to occur.

Behind him, lining the edge of the trees, over two hundred strangers waited along with him. Two hundred staring faces, two hundred people holding their breath in anticipation. Garrett stood up at 6:35, exactly as he had outlined in his journal. He took a moment to look back at the strangers. But not strangers. His people. The people who finally understood his genius.

For the first time, he smiled back at them. Then he set the device.


At 6:36 in the morning on August 5, 2016, Thomas Mark Garrett blew up the majority of downtown Beauford, Montana, killing over three thousand, including himself. His notebooks did not survive the explosion.




Michelle Podsiedlik lives in New Hampshire. Her speculative fiction has appeared in The Sirens Call, Schlock Webzine, and WitchWorks. She blogs about books and writing at michellepodsiedlik.wordpress.com.

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