It’s publication day for my newest short story! All Worlds Wayfarer is publishing my story “Firemaker” in their December 2020 issue, now available to read online for free or available as an ebook from Amazon. I’m beyond excited that this story has finally found a home. I sincerely hope you enjoy reading it.
Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t read the story yet, I hope you will before reading much further, because this is the point of no return if you wish to avoid spoilers. I love a good time travel tale. It’s a familiar trope for good reason — it allows us to imagine our reality in surprising ways. If we had a machine like the one my protagonist has at his disposal, I think we’d all be tempted to see what tomorrow had in store for us, or long to correct what once went wrong. But what happens once you’ve seen and done it all? Where would a weary time travel go to escape the sweeping currents of history? That’s the question at the heart of “Firemaker.”
I started tinkering with this idea about three years ago, when I fell down a rabbit hole of information about linguistics. I remember reading about linguists searching for an ancient “mother tongue,” a lost language theorized to be the ancestor of today’s Indo-European language family. This missing language, dubbed “Proto Indo-European” can be extrapolated by looking for common words that may indicate a common root in the distant past. According to some theories, scraps of this language embedded in our modern lexicon may be the only surviving evidence of a hunter-gatherer society that existed more than 15,000 years ago. From that starting place, I began to imagine this society as a small band that did not survive the Ice Age, leaving behind nothing but their language. A dead-end civilization, cut off from us by a climactic disaster.
Some time later, this idea merged with another one that was rolling around in my mind. I was thinking about time travel as a plot device, about the nature of time, and where a time traveler who’s tired of roaming might go. How might such a traveler retire after untold decades exploring every corner of history from the dawn of the dinosaurs to the destruction of the Earth? Where would I go if I wanted to avoid making disruptive changes to the timeline and simply be? In that position, I might want to find a quiet corner of time where I knew I couldn’t alter the flow of history, among people who would eventually disappear from the historical record. Perhaps an Ice Age civilization destined to die out.
These two threads came together in an early draft of a story titled “Amber.” In that first version, the Traveler goes into the distant past to escape from the responsibility of knowing how everything would turn out. In that story, the Traveler came across as cold and detached, weighing the impact of his every action before committing to anything. In the story, he saves a boy from drowning, but only after deciding that doing so will have no adverse affect on history. It was an interesting thought experiment, but it lacked emotional stakes.
So, I made some changes, put it away for a year or two, and then pulled it out again to fine-tune it. In the final story, the Traveler is much more impulsive and driven not by a sense of duty not to screw up time, but love for a woman with the potential to ensure her people’s survival as ice sheets bear down on their valley. “Firemaker” is a lot more fun than its earlier incarnation because of the protagonist’s willingness to throw away his whole life in order to get himself to Immaru ahead of schedule. But it also incorporates an undercurrent of uncertainty about whether or not we can ever understand or manipulate time. In the end, I honestly don’t know if the Traveler’s actions constitute a paradox or if that’s how it was always supposed to be and free will is an illusion. And I don’t know if the Traveler made it back to the tavern to order the drinks or if he ever existed at all. That’s the fun of time travel, and I hope you enjoyed the trip.
“Firemaker” is now available to read on the All Worlds Wayfarer website. All Worlds Wayfarer publishes quarterly on the solstice and equinox, so you have until March 20, 2021 to read my short fiction there before the next issue is published. If you’d like a copy you can keep forever, please consider supporting the lit journal by purchasing the Kindle version on Amazon. Thanks for reading!
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Jonny Eberle lives in Tacoma, WA with his wife, three typewriters, and a puppy. His fiction has been featured or is forthcoming in Creative Colloquy, Grit City Magazine and All Worlds Wayfarer. Read more of his short fiction here, follow him on Twitter, and subscribe to his monthly email newsletter here.