By Daniel Aceituna
“Why not?” Zeke said, taking another swig. “How much damage could it do?”
It was Zeke’s idea to sneak into the lab where our father had been experimenting with time travel. Dad had been cautiously sending objects back, within a one-month time span, to a shed in the backyard. His intent was to prevent life-changing accidents by giving victims a day or two of early warning.
Now, having first invaded Dad’s liquor cabinet, Zeke wanted to try something bold: send a bowling ball back to 1850. Zeke’s hand was on the switch.
“Wait! What if we cause a bad change in history?” I said.
“Relax, it’s just a bowling ball. Imagine the look on their faces.”
I thought back to the many times he’d calmly assured me “relax,” while pillaging my comfort zone, like goading me to jump off Dad’s shed. I broke my arm, but Zeke pushed me to say it was my idea. Rubbing where the cast had been, I say, “No, Zeke, let’s not do this.”
“You always say relax, then something bad happens.”
He gave that pout that always scared me into submission. “Too late, already sent…Have another drink.”
The first thing to go wrong was Dad noticing his lower liquor supply. The second thing was the time travel logs that were automatically backed-up on his private computer.
“A bowling ball?” Dad looked at us. “Why?”
Zeke shot me an elbow. “We thought it might be funny. Right, Jack. There was no harm done. Nothing changed.”
“You expect to see a change?” Dad raked back his hair and took a deep breath. “Guys! Think! Why would a bowling ball sent as far back as 1850, wait until yesterday to cause a change? It would make more sense for any change to have occurred before any of us existed. We would have been born into whatever history that ball created.”
“Or, we could have caused another timeline to branch off,” I said.
Dad didn’t look my way. “We should try to determine, what effect, if any, that ball had in our timeline.”
“How?” Zeke said. “You just said that we couldn’t—”
Dad gave him a confident wink. “Let me think about it.”
I never understood why my father preferred Zeke. He was older, but I had better judgment and smarts. I guess what hurts most are the times Zeke used me as camouflage for his impulsive stupidity. For too long I was the chump, the scapegoat, who kept Zeke in Dad’s favor.
Dad paced: a sign the genius was back in control. “Okay. We look for past clues of people finding strange things. Or stories about strange objects inspiring ideas.”
A few minutes later, we each had a laptop looking for anything strange around 1850. One article caught my attention.
“Some historians think the South won the Civil War because of their superior cannonballs,” I said, reading directly from the article.
Dad and Zeke stayed glued to their screens. I paused, then continued reading silently.
Then, Dad leaned back in his chair and smiled at Zeke. “That reminds me of what my grandfather told me. He said his father had a brother named Zeke—your namesake—who died from cannon fire. They both fought in the Civil War for the North, same battlefield, same day, within eyesight of each other when the cannonball hit. My grandfather said that as much as his father lamented his brother’s death, he was glad, for my grandfather’s sake, that it wasn’t he himself who died.”
“You mean for our sake,” Zeke said. “If your grandfather is never born, we wouldn’t be here.”
“Good point, son.” Dad smiled and gave Zeke a nod. “You’re always one step ahead. Jack, you’ll have to learn to keep up with Zeke one day.”
“I try,” I said, with forced restraint.
“Try harder. Remember that foolish stunt you pulled once. The broken arm?”
I swallowed hard. “There’s something I’ve always wanted to say about that.”
Dad swiveled his chair to face me.
“It wasn’t my idea to jump off the shed.”“But you did jump. Nobody forced you.”
“Not exactly,” I said, glancing at Zeke.
“Oh, so now it’s your brother’s fault?”
“I’ve been covering for him, since we were kids.”
“And the bowling ball was all Zeke, as well? C’mon, seriously.”
“I tried to stop him.” I looked at Zeke, but his gaze was fixed on the floor.
“Zeke, I can’t believe you’re not setting all this straight,” Dad said, rubbing his neck.
“Looks like he changed history,” I said.
Dad shook his head, “You can’t prove that. Zeke, say something!”
“This article says the cannonballs were superior because someone was inspired to add three holes that made them easier to quickly load into a cannon,” I said.
“The issue here is bowling balls.”
“Years later those same cannonball holes would be applied to bowling balls.”
Dad quietly sat back. At that moment I felt more for my father than for Zeke, who was now slumping like a dog caught in the act.
Zeke kept staring at the floor.
“We need to talk…but right now, I need a drink.” Dad shook his head as he moped out of the room.
Moments later, Zeke sneaked a darting glance at me, threatening with his famous pout.
“Relax,” I said, no longer intimidated. “The world’s different now.”