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I spotted Christy sitting by the window of a dingy bar, so having nothing better to do I pushed open the door to join him. A bar tucked in between shops and offices it was. Very quiet, somehow suited to a cold and foggy evening in November. Almost Dickensian.

Christy gazed at me as I struggled to remove my recent purchase – an almost new charity shop coat with too many zips and fasteners to be quite convenient. No wonder it ended up in a charity shop.

“Well done.” Christy sipped his drink as I finally managed to exit the coat and drape it round the back of a chair.

“Oh thanks.” Someone had placed a glass of something colourless on the table before drifting off behind the bar. I couldn’t quite see who it was – the place wasn’t well lit, but Christy’s haunts never are.

“I see you bought the coat. I thought you would,” Christy added.

“I suppose you saw me in the charity shop.”

“I did. It’s a very distinctive garment – changes you into a person who should be tramping up and down hills in bad weather.”

“Distinctive – I suppose it is, even in a dim light.” I pulled back the chair, its dragged feet curiously loud in that dim stillness. Musty silence rolled back as I sat down and sipped the colourless drink. Vaguely herbal to my taste, slightly exotic.

“It’s water.” Christy turned the bottle label towards me, but I couldn’t make out the language. “I don’t know what else is in it or where it’s from,” he added, “but I like the label. I like this place too. Bits of brass and old wood – reminds me of HG Wells.”

“The Time Machine?” I guessed.

“Yes, the book and the sixties film.” Christy paused, gazed around in that abstracted way he has, frowning slightly as if lost in some puzzle world of his own. “He missed a trick you know.”

“HG Wells?”

“Yes – shouldn’t have bothered with the Eloi and the Morlocks. Obvious why he did. His political views and the novelist’s need for conflict. But he shouldn’t have bothered. Spoiled the possibilities.”

“What possibilities?”

“Well think about it. A marvellous beginning in the house of a late Victorian inventor who builds a fabulous machine to travel through time. First the mysterious model on the table. A member of the invited audience presses a little lever. Then with everyone watching, the model quietly vanishes into the future. A slight draught, a flickering candle then gone forever. Later the Time Traveller goes off in the full-sized machine.”

“Then he returns then disappears again,” I replied, “this time forever. Presumably gone to help the Eloi and you object to all that because?”

“Because it’s so banal. The Eloi were beyond helping. What had they done to make them repay the risk and the effort?”

“Well – ”

“Consider what Wells could have done instead, the human situation he could have chosen to explore.”

“The Time Traveller couldn’t ignore the plight of the Eloi.”

“Of course he could. They were no concern of his. He could have made some attempt to explore eternity.”

“Ride his machine into the future forever?”

“Not exactly.” Christy topped up his glass from the bottle with the strange label and glanced towards the bar. As if responding to a signal, a figure appeared out of the gloom, placed a glass of beer in front of me before floating off again. “More to your taste I think,” Christy explained.

“Thanks.” The beer was better than I expected after Christy’s herbal water or whatever it was.

“The point is, in the end he couldn’t explore eternity,” Christy continued, “not even the first few million years of it. Yes, he could set the time machine controls and whizz off through time until he died, but even if Wells ignored the obvious bodily needs, it doesn’t work.”

“He would at least see more than anyone else has ever seen.”

“That’s not the point. He would discover how impossibly remote time and the universe are, how we have our niche, but we’ll never explore beyond it. Beyond is forever beyond.” Christy paused before adding, “it’s so incomprehensively vast. All we’ll ever do is study our geology, gaze through our telescopes and make up stories about it.”

“Yes but – ”

“The Eloi and Morlocks – pure politics. Wells failed to bring that out, failed as he was bound to fail. The great beyond is out there just beyond the clouds. It’s there, we know it’s there, but all we have, all we’ll ever have is politics. It’s the ultimate horror story.”


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