The metal of the time machine shook as it plunged through the fourth dimension. The Time Traveler noticed this, but was too preoccupied to pay it much heed. Turbulence might be a routine occurrence when traveling forward more than a century into the future. He was the first man to visit so far into the future after all. This was all new territory. He bent his head down again and closed his eyes. His mind was abuzz, his body restless as he sat in the cramped metal cocoon that was taking him one thousand years into the future. In a few short minutes, he would walk out through the opening and see what the Earth looked like, a thousand years the wiser. The thought, the warning signal, entered his mind again, and he examined it with trepidation. What if he walked out to a barren wasteland instead of the Utopian future he was disingenuously hoping for? What if he arrived somewhere in the middle of the apocalypse? Or an environmentally exhausted wasteland? He shook silently.
The Time Traveler had known, the moment he realized his invention was functional, that he had to visit the future; see if his fears for it had had merit or not. And, of course, there had been a litany of such fears. Global warming, famine, apocalyptic wars, and the chance of divine intervention (however slight) all hung over the future, and the Time Traveler, a man who cared deeply about humanity and the future of his species, had always held a morbid curiosity of which one, if any, of these calamities would strike his world first.
This was why, after building only the second machine capable of trans-temporal travel known to man, and after successfully returning from his first test run of just a few hours back, he had sent himself twenty years into the future, to see whether anything would take place in his own lifetime. And thankfully, what he had seen had not been cause for alarm. At least, no more than the present already was.
And he had been content, but only for a moment, because after that, the question arose; What would ultimately happen to humanity? Knowing that he would never be satisfied without the knowledge, and too enticed by prospect of seeing the kind of future he wanted for the human race, the Time Traveler stepped back into the time machine.
But now, headed far, far into the reaches of human existence, driven by his own manic obsessions with and valid apprehensions around the future, the Time Traveler bit at his nails. What was he going to find? What would he see upon stepping out of the door?
He closed his eyes, visualizing what he wanted, a motivational technique of his, which he made use of knowing full well that it was of precisely no use in the given situation. And at that moment, the seat upon which he sat, the control panel in front of him, and the walls of the time machine juddered, then stopped moving all together. The Time Traveler gasped. He had arrived.
And he was about to get his question answered.
With jittery fingers, he pressed the switch to open the exit panel. Cold sunlight shone through the opening onto the insides of the small compartment. It was an overcast day. The Time Traveler walked blindly, the sun striking his eyes and making it impossible to see anything for a few seconds, and left the confines of his machine. When his eyes adjusted, the opening to his mouth widened.
The time machine lay at the edge of a forest. A thick wooden wall of tree trunk and shrubbery. In front, there was a long stretch of beach, the wave front matching the width of the tree line, both taking part in a static race towards the horizon. A strangely shaped boulder lying on the periphery of the Time Traveler’s vision failed to hold his attention, distracted, as he was, by the two humans sitting in front of him, the only sign of civilization to be seen.
They were basic, primal, in their form, primitive even. Their bodies were lithe and hairless, their features bold and very well-defined. They were lounging next to a fire, over which a body was being rolled around on a makeshift grill. A body that was most definitely human, the size and shape unmistakable, even though the skin across it was broasted and the face was disfigured by burns. Not that you would have been able to recognize it without them; the eyes had been gouged out and the nose torn off and the mouth emptied of teeth.
The Time Traveler found himself at a loss for words. The future was two savages feasting on one of their own. The man was stunned. His heart felt like it was going into palpitations.
The wild men looked at him in alarm, and scrambled away from his general direction.
A few seconds passed, both parties contemplating the meaning of the presence of the other. The naked humans stood, completely naked, and looked at the Time Traveler in obvious bewilderment, getting consistently calmer as they examined him, a demeanor the Time Traveler could not manage himself as he watched them.
His heart did it’s best to bruise his chest bone as he took a step back. The humans of the future did not move. They repeatedly looked from the Time Traveler to the boulder nearby, seemingly perplexed. The Time Traveler followed their furrowed brows, tearing his gaze away from the wild men, to take a closer look at the shape himself, at what he had dismissed as a lone rock before, and let out a cry, a cry of alarm, of pure, unmitigated terror, when he realized what it was, what the shape was, and what it meant.
He shook himself from his stupor then, and began an awkward backwards run towards the machine.
The savages immediately responded, jerking into action and taking fast, wide steps towards him. It was fortunate the machine was so close by.
Before the savages could grab him, the Time Traveler scurried into his machine and closed the exit panel, it sliding shut, agonizingly slowly, with a hiss, just before the savages could reach the machine. They let out growls, actual growls of rage that punctuated the air inside the metal cocoon, and the Time Traveler had time to let out a breath of relief when they rammed against the outside of the small, oval-shaped machine.
The Time Traveler had the wind knocked out of him as his machine toppled, horribly vulnerable to destabilizing force. He grabbed at the control panel reflexively, and his arm pushed a number of switches and controls that he hadn’t meant to push. The walls of his machine began shuddering again as the Time Traveler went on a journey to the past. He was in a conscious daze as he felt the side of the machine shudder beneath him, still lopsided as it made it’s traverse through time. It shuddered, and then it stopped. The Time Traveler let out a sigh of relief, too stunned to register that the journey had been much too short to have been of a 1000 years back in time. He groped for the control panel and opened the exit shaft for the last time.
A pale sunlight streamed in as he clambered out of the machine and collapsed onto the sandy floor, blinded by the sun once again. When at last he opened his eyes, the Time Traveler found himself lying on the beach, the same beach he’d just left a few minutes before. And as he stood up, the time machine behind him leaning on its side, passable as a rock formation to the cursory glance, he felt rough hands on his throat, grasping, clenching, tightening, as the two savages, who had previously been walking on the beach, attacked him from behind, their animal instinct alarmed. He was dead in seconds.
The men of the future stripped his corpse, and one of them lit a fire while the other went into the forest to get a splint to hang the body on. They lounged around the fire thereafter, and waited for the body to finish roasting.
A few hours later, the Time Traveler arrived.