A Toyota in Hitler’s Back Yard

I remember it like it was yesterday. Mostly because it was actually two yesterdays, one in 2011 Switzerland and one in 1944 Germany. Despite my best efforts at denying what was happening, it soon became urgent that I must accept this reality and act accordingly. My 2007 Toyota Camry not only seemed out of place, it was enourmously out of place as I exited from a mountain tunnel into early morning, somewhere other than where I had been. I blinked, not at sunshine but at that early morning pale blue sky filled with B-17 aircraft laying down contrails as they pressed on for their targets. It was then the sense of danger permeated my being. I had no way of knowing even remotely where I was. I did know, wherever I was, it wasn’t good. The only good thing was the road was deserted, probably everyone was taking cover from the threat of bombs from above.

I drove out of the mountains for several miles until I encountered a driveway that led to the remains of a farmhouse in ruins and a barn that had somehow survived. I yanked open the creaking doors and eased my car inside. As I pulled the doors closed it began to dawn on me that I was in a more precarious position than I had at first imagined. It also dawned on me that I knew the machinations that had brought me here would most likely never get me back. If I were to have any chance at all I would have to get back to that mountain tunnel at 04:35 the next morning. Then there was the fact the fuel gauge had been flashing its warning all morning and I would need gas to get back to that mountain road with any certainty.

Why would I want to go back into the tunnel? I could only surmise that as I had driven to work through the tunnel leading to the new Hadron Collider, something had happened that sent me though a tear in the fabric of space-time and my only chance to get back home was to get into the tunnel before that tear closed. I also knew with some certainty, that moment had passed. I would have to re-enter the tunnel at the same time tomorrow when the experiment was next scheduled. While the odds were insurmountably against whatever brought me here happening again, they were better odds than an American in a futuristic car in Nazi Germany could ever hope to get.

I looked frantically around the barn for some sign the farmer might have had a vehicle or something that used gasoline or even a stray gas can. I found nothing. The dilapidated tractor out back of the barn had not seen fuel in quite some time. A sapling was sprouting between the frame and engine, its remaining leaves quivering forlornly in the breeze. All the tires were flat as well. Then it hit me, I didn’t really need my car, any car would do, although to leave mine behind might cause the feared paradox wherein history is changed and I might disappear into nothingness. No, I would have to have my car, it simply could not be left behind. As I pondered my fate I realized the droning of the bombers had died down and I could once again hear birds twittering outside.

I thought again about the time-travel paradox and realized that by my theory, I could just as well be in a parallel universe and whatever happened here would be of no consequence to the universe where I had gone onto work this morning with nothing untoward happening. The theory of parallel universes is mathematically feasible, the reality, if that’s what this was, ultimately overwhelming.

I heard vehicles on the highway and saw a small convoy of German tanks and various support trucks rumbling by. As my panic was building once more, the bombers filled the air again. There were fewer now and they were going in the opposite direction. One straggled behind, billowing smoke from its left wing, probably an engine on fire. Somewhere in Germany, someone had just got the living crap bombed out of them by the Americans. As a Yank, I desperately needed to maintain my cover for more reasons than the time-travel pickle. I decided it would be best to continue my search for fuel under cover of darkness so I set about mapping the countryside as best I could on some notebooks I kept in the car. I tried the radio, but all I could get were German stations, no surprise.

Then as I pondered what I was going to do for food, I thought I heard a cough. I crouched down and frantically looked out through the cracks between the barn boards, expecting to see some farm animals or a foot patrol approaching but they were both conspicuous in their absence.

Slowly, a floorboard of the barn squeaked up and a bearded face peered out of the darkness below. I don’t know which was more unsettling, the largeness of his eyes or the large rifle he had pointed at me.

I raised my hands in the air, palms outward to show him I meant no harm. He looked at me, then the car, then me and asked in fairly good English, “who are you and what do you want?”

“I want to go home” was my simple answer.

He clambered out of his hiding place, the rifle still trained on me and asked, “so where is home?”

I knew there were no good answers so I simply said, “America, 2011″

He looked at me, suspicion overflowed his face, “what are you talking about? Don’t you know better than to joke about such things?”

I shrugged and nodded my head in the direction of the car, “look on the front passenger seat, you will see a newspaper I got on the way to work this morning. You will notice the date there and the stories will give you a hint. By the way, if you see Hitler, tell him a black man is our president.”

He looked at the paper and shook his head from side to side. I wasn’t sure he comprehended yet what my situation truly was. “You are not armed?”

“No, I don’t own any guns and even if I did, I wouldn’t have them in my car, a security risk at my job.”

He lowered the rifle and said, “you can put your hands down now, I don’t think I have anything to fear from a crazy man like you. Only that crazy bastard, Hitler. Say, tell me future man, who wins the war? It seems as if Germany is on the losing end these days.”

His sudden acceptance seemed odd, but in a country that has been rocked by war for years, many unbelievable things had happened. I looked at him and wondered if there was any harm in telling him, then decided there was nothing he or I could do at this point to change the outcome of the war as long as he didn’t know certain details.

“The Allies will win, Hitler will commit suicide in his bunker in Berlin.”

He looked long and hard at me now, “don’t joke with me, that would only be too good.”

Then he snapped the rifle back up and took aim at my head, “you’re not some Nazi spy are you? Tricking me into an act of subversion so you and your SS boys can pounce on my like they did my family?”

It seemed he would have been only too glad if I had said yes so he could blow my head off. He went on, “Listen, for all I know, you are a spy so let me just say, the rat-bastard Hitler should be made to suffer a very long time. Every Jew family should be given a chance to stick a brine-soaked knife into him until he is at the very precipice of death, then let him heal, and start the salt stabbing all over again as many times as possible.” I slowly stood up, raised my middle finger in a mock salute and bellowed, “to hell with Hitler! Sieg Heil dumbass !” If I was going to get shot in the head, I might as well make it worth it, was my less than coherent thought.

He pulled the hammer back, lowered it to the safety position, put the gun on the floor and clapped a hug on me that I though would crush me.

“You’d better keep that to yourself, it could get you killed here you know.” He extended his hand, “I am Ralf, and you?”

“Just call me Joe” I answered.

“Ok, Joe, what are your plans now?”

“Well Ralf, I need some petrol, gasoline, you know, motor fuel so I can drive my car back into the tunnel and see if all this reverses itself and I can get back to my time. My being here might not be a good thing should I get captured by the SS. I’m not much of a history buff, but I know enough that it could be possible to change the future and for all I know, Germany might win the war because of me or my car. I can’t let that happen.”

Ralf walked around the car, studying it and running his fingers through his beard. “No running boards? No fenders? And it is so low to the ground, what kind of automobile is this?”

“You may find this hard to believe, but it is a Japanese car assembled in the United States” I explained.

“Today” he mused “the impossible is easy to believe.”

“Listen,” I urged “how are we going to find some motor fuel?”

He looked up from the car and said, “well, Hans down the road has some for his farm. They make him grow potatoes for the armies. There is an above ground tank but we will have to be careful. He doesn’t much care for the army, but they pay him and let his family live, so he won’t be willing to part with some without a good reason. He has too many dogs guarding the place, so stealing it is out of the question.” Ralf looked out through the barn boards, deep in thought, then he turned to me. “He knows I don’t have a running vehicle but I suppose I can make up a story about getting my motorcycle running and I need some for that.”

“Why doesn’t the motorcycle run?” I asked.

“No gas,” Ralf half grinned “I think we have our story. But I will need to go alone, he is very suspicious, even of me. He knows I am bitter about what happened to my family but he also knows I would never openly oppose the regime. He is wrong about that, but what he doesn’t know, won’t hurt me.”

I was about to ask what happened to his family when he turned from me and wiped a tear from his leathery cheek. “My wife and daughters went to visit her family. Her mother is half-Jewish, or at least was half-Jewish.” He hesitated while he composed himself. “Inge and the girls got caught up in a raid on the ghetto. They had no papers and were sent off in the trains. That’s all I know, but I have heard stories that are too horrible to tell or think about. I used to think we would re-unite after the war but everyone tells me they are probably dead now. I do not know this for sure, but I have heard nothing from them and if they were alive, I’m sure they would write. What do you know about the stories?” he asked.

I looked him in the eyes, debating how much to tell him. I had no way to know the fate of his family, only the fate of millions of others. Finally I broke the gloomy silence, “The only thing I can tell you is there were camps. They called them camps but they were prisons, or, are prisons where some six million Jews met their deaths at the hands of the Nazis and countless more were used for forced labor. They weren’t discovered by the outside world until the end of the war. I can give you a few names of the camps if you want, I don’t know all of them I’m sorry to say.”

Both of Ralf’s eyes welled with tears and he burst out one deep unforgettable sob. “No,” he finally said quietly, “I suppose I will know soon enough. No matter, we must get you out of here. If it helps the Third Reich even one little bit to discover you here, that is too much!”

With that he hauled a fuel can out of his hiding place and set out into the dusk.

I had considered covering the car with straw but Ralf had little to spare and if the army found a pile of straw that size, they would confiscate it for bedding if nothing else and the car would be discovered. We decided it would be best to cover it with mud to at least partially disguise it. Each trip out back of the barn to a small stream to gather mud made my heart race. The place might be under observation for all I knew and the sporadic barking of the neighbor’s dogs didn’t help my sense of security either. Finally I was done and decided to get some rest. I had just settled down across the back seat and closed my eyes when the sky filled with a thunderous droning. I realized that it must be the British bombing by night. Flights of unseen planes roared overhead on their way to targets deep inside Germany. Something I read brought fear to my veins. Sometimes the allied planes couldn’t find their target and would drop their bombs on “targets of opportunity.” What if Ralf’s barn should look like such a target? What if his neighbor’s farm came under such an attack? Sleep was not to be had as possibilities and impossibilities raced through my head. What had been surreal for so long on this strange day, was suddenly very tangibly, horribly real.

In the movies, you know the good guys are going to come out alright and the bad guys won’t catch them. In the movies, there are no faint smells of smoke and death in the air. I know the war turned out for the better, generally but as far as I was concerned, the war was anything but over at this moment. I also realized that telling Ralf too much could put him in danger. If he knew about D-Day and all the rest he could be an unwitting pawn should he be captured. Paranoia began to set in. What if he had been discovered? Nazis could be swarming toward the barn this very moment. What would they make of me? A madman? What of the car? They would no doubt turn everything over to the SS. Then I nearly threw up as I realized I had a historical book in the car detailing the allied bombing campaign out of England. I couldn’t risk burning it and possibly the barn. I couldn’t risk hiding it in Ralf’s hideout under the flooring. Ralf could never see it even though it might be the very thing to buoy his spirits, the risk was just too great. Then it dawned on me, I could look in the book and see what missions were being flown this very day. That would tell me where to avoid, should reversing my course through the tunnel prove futile. That thought was followed by the knowledge that what sounded like the plan of a crazy man just had to work, there were no other options.

There was one option, I could have Ralf destroy the car and myself so we resembled just so much war damage. Would Ralf be able to do that if needed? I decided not to concentrate on that approach unless it became unavoidable. Besides, I wasn’t quite sure what my death in this time period might do. My sons might evaporate. I would never be born in 1947. I shuddered those thoughts out of my mind and concentrated on the tasks at hand.

I also had no idea of the mechanics, quantum or otherwise it to took to transport me from Cern Switzerland to the Harz Mountains as I would later learn about my present, if you can call it that, location. I had notice a route marker numbered 395, which struck me as odd, since I grew up near U.S. Highway 395 in Washington State. At this point, I wasn’t going to rule out a coincidence, nor give it any credence either.

Ralf materialized out of the darkness to interrupt my going mad. He held up his gas can and smiled at me, then scratched his beard again. “Hans wants me to bring the motorcycle to his farm in trade for gas, he loves riding them and the army took his.”

At first I thought about just gassing up the car and leaving but I realized I owed Ralf my life, up to this point at least. Besides, it wasn’t time yet, the experiment wouldn’t be run for hours.

“Where is the bike?” I asked.

He looked at me quizzically.

“Motorcycle” I corrected myself.

“Ah, in the house, the last place they would look for it.”

We struggled through the darkness and soon the motorcycle was in the barn.

“Does it run?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Ralf said, “it did when I put it away at the start of the war.”

I got my meager tool kit that I kept in the car and we turned our attention to the rusty contraption.

We tinkered with it for several hours, taking turns trying to kick the reluctant beast to life. Finally after cleaning the spark plugs, ignition points and tapping on the carburetor with a screwdriver handle, it sputtered to life. Ralf grinned as he twisted the throttle. The resulting racket and smoke made us paranoid again so we shut it off and trundled it back into the burned-out house.

By my estimation, we put about two gallons of gas into the car. We had to make a funnel out of some roof flashing from his house since the anti-siphon device leaves only a small opening to pour fuel into. I started to relate the fuel crisis that lead up to the wholesale changes in the American dream, then realized Ralf was living that very scenario at this very moment, his dreams were nightmares.

We drew a map on the notebook so I could make sure I would find my way back to that tunnel. Originally I had wanted a full tank of gas but I realized escape on the roads would be futile. I couldn’t dare take Ralf with me, I had no idea whether that would upset the delicate circumstances that brought me here in the first place and what of his descendants? Ralf was probably the only German in the area that wouldn’t have turned me in at the first opportunity. The plan was to make a run for it while it was still dark which worked well with my plan to be in the center of the tunnel at 04:35. The roads were usually empty then so as not to provide targets of opportunity for the British bombers returning home. I also knew that another experiment in Cern was set to run at that hour, so timing my entrance into the tunnel was critical. I just hoped I wouldn’t present someone with a target of opportunity.

Then I realized I was ravenously hungry. I hadn’t had time to think about food all night. Ralf rubbed his belly too, and offered me some cold porridge, not that he had any to spare. I politely declined his offer, opting instead to share my sack lunch with him. I had forgotten about my lunch and I probably will never know if Ralf eating Doritos in 1944 would have any serious repercussions, time-wise.

Ralf was going to ride the motorcycle to Han’s farm. We hoped that would distract attention away from the barn and road, which were barely visible from the potato fields. As Ralf swung his leg over the bike, we shook hands. I thanked him, wished him well, and against all hope, told him to keep on looking for his family. I also swore him to secrecy, to which he agreed. “They would think I was mad for even telling of this day.” He then started his motorcycle.

I started the car and swung the barn doors open. Ralf was only a vanishing tail-light in the gloom as I swung down the driveway. I had scant minutes to make the tunnel but in my haste, I had forgotten to clean the mud off the headlights. Frantically I stopped and mopped them off with a sweater that was lying on the seat. Suddenly I saw lights approaching down the road! I jumped back in the car and gunned the engine as I turned on to the road and back past the route 395 sign. The road was in pretty good shape for those days and I was able to run close to 100 miles an hour until I started climbing toward the tunnel. The lights were still behind me and I definitely saw flashing lights flick on. I was about to really floor it when I realized I was nearly thirty seconds ahead of schedule! How had this happened? It didn’t matter if Hitler himself was on my tail, I was going to have to slow my progress. I couldn’t risk exiting the tunnel before the experimental collision 67 years in the future happened, if it happened at all.

Suppose I had unwittingly changed history already? Maybe it wasn’t Switzerland at all, suppose it was a Nazi occupied territory? My heart roared in my ears, sweat beaded on my forehead and drenched my hands. I belched up a biley mouthful of Doritos and would have spit them out he window, if the window had been open. I fixated on the mess slide down the glass. At this moment reality was never more like a dream. I turned my attention back to the clock on the dash counting down. I watched the lights in my mirrors draw closer. I could make out the silhouettes of military trucks now and imagined I would see muzzle flashes at any second.

Then it was time to stomp on the gas and get into the tunnel, as I reached the mid-point I looked at the clock, it read 3:95! What?

I broke out of the tunnel only to see a guard station ahead! I lurched to a halt inches from the cross-bar amid the chatter of the anti-lock brakes. I could only imagine what would happen next. I figured I would be relentlessly questioned and tortured. Fear froze me to the steering wheel when I heard a hard rapping at my window. I pushed the window button down. The whirring of the window motor was the only thing real at that point.

“Joe?” the guard at Cern looked at me with a very odd expression on his face. ” is everything all right?” I looked at him incredulously. His nametag read Ralf.

I tried to appear normal, “uh sure, just late for work, that’s all. Did they do the run yet?”

He looked from me, to the mud-covered car and back, “Yes, but there was another glitch, same as yesterday. They don’t know if they found the Higgs-Boson or if Higgs made Bozos out of them! Too bad you missed yesterday, they can’t wait to brief everyone on the anomaly. Alright, you’re cleared, go ahead. Say do you need someone to wash your car? We can you know!”

I was about to tell him no, when I noticed a photo on the guard shack wall. A bearded fellow sat astride a vintage motorcycle and he appeared to be wearing my sweater. I was taken aghast, there was also a woman and two young girls in the picture.

“Say,” I croaked, “who’s that picture of?”

“My great uncle, Ralf, namesake actually, though some thought he was off his rocker. Told wild stories in his dementia years. Something about that motorcycle leading him to his wife and daughters and a rocket car outrunning a convoy escorting Hitler himself. Well, you have a good day, Joe, don’t drive through any wormholes or anything.” He winked as he raised the barrier. While the giant machine next to us was probing the mysteries of the quantum world, another new mystery was now on my mind. I had never seen that photo before in all the days I had driven through that security point. That, and the clock no longer read 3:95.

People also view

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *