Sir Walter Raleigh – travelling through dense jungle in Guiana while still high on the yage he’d been given that day by members of the Arawak tribe – had just taken a toilet break not far from where his camp had settled for the night when he came upon the silver-suited crew of a time machine who, though they’d just landed, straightaway offered to show the great explorer what it was like to really go on an expedition.
Well, Sir Walter – being a fearless, daring adventurer – was, as ever, ready to be impressed, and the time-travelling astronauts just couldn’t fail as they took him at hyper-speed round the Milky Way and back in seconds flat then, after slowing down just slightly for a heart-stopping, ice-rock-dodging, voyage through the Kuiper Belt, blew their gawping guest’s drug-addled mind with a headlong trip into Jupiter’s turbulent stratosphere.
Four hundred years later – after little more than four hundred seconds spent in space – Sir Walter finally returned to Earth. The year now was 1995 and, stood in the middle of Raleigh Green off Whitehall in London, the still strung out explorer was beginning to feel the effects of coming down. It didn’t help that, having agreed to be taken by the astronauts to 1959 to witness the grand unveiling of his statue, Sir Walter found, instead, that he was stranded when a glitch in the time machine’s controls caused the 5 and the 9 to suddenly switch and then, moments after they’d landed, both the astronauts and their craft to disappear, leaving their spaced out in every way guest – who’d only just disembarked – alone and completely disorientated in what was a scarily strange but weirdly familiar place.
At any rate, Sir Walter – on seeing, from his statue’s plinth, that the year of his death was 1618 – was plunged immediately into doubt and despair, unable to get his head round how he was going to live the rest of that life while stuck out here in the future. In any event, he couldn’t bear to look at this cast-in-dark-bronze image of himself, that was covered in pigeon shit and made him look so old, but it seemed that other people could, though when he approached a group of people gathered round his statue to ask them what they were doing, the exalted explorer was stopped in his tracks on hearing them speaking clearly in Spanish and, wondering had a new Armada been successful in his absence, backed off quickly, fearing he might be killed – then, running up the road, found himself confronted by a statue on top of a huge column that, going by how ridiculously over-the-top it was, was surely the representation of some prominent Spaniard, maybe even the King of Spain himself.
Sir Walter was put right, in the end, by a man who – in between hollering ‘Get yer Standard!’ to no-one in particular (but at least thereby confirming he wasn’t Spanish but English) – explained that the statue was of an illustrious English Admiral and that, in recent years, the English had occupied large swathes of the Spanish coast. But that was all Sir Walter managed to glean from this man in five fraught minutes of conversation, and attempts to engage with other locals were just as unsuccessful, not least because the English language had changed so much since 1595 and people found the legendary but lost explorer hard to understand.
In any event, Queen Elizabeth the First was dead and, unimpressed with what he was hearing about the Second, Sir Walter retreated to a spit-n-sawdust pub near Trafalgar Square and, there, held court, cadging free ale and fags off patrons in return for keeping them entertained with all his weirdly-worded tales about his travels, not only around the world but beyond the stars.
And this down-at-heel pub, full of lost and maddened souls, was where he ended up staying – not the healthiest environment for someone who was four hundred years out of time. Renting a room above the bar, and only venturing out to make money by having his photo taken with tourists, Sir Walter struggled in vain to keep his sanity, and though remaining convinced that the astronauts who’d left him would someday soon return to take him back to 1595, he was, in the meantime, once again, time travelling – albeit now through inner rather than outer space.
It was possible of course that he hadn’t left 1595 – that the yage trip he was on was simply much stronger than any trip he’d had before – but, in any event, he’d started to find, in his mixed-up mind, that there really was no distance between the planets, that it actually was noxious gases from Jupiter’s atmosphere that rose from his fag, and liquid methane (the exact same mass as piss-weak beer) that half-filled his pint glass.
And keen to share this toxic tale, of how he never really escaped from Jupiter’s stratosphere but brought it with him back to Earth, Sir Walter offered anyone who asked some yage from his leather pouch, imploring them to drink it and let the story tell itself inside their head.
By Tom McColl
- Tom’s stories have previously been published by Bare Fiction, The Ghastling, Sick Lit, Fictive Dream, The Fiction Pool and Smoke: A London Peculiar, and my first full collection of flash fiction and poetry, Being With Me Will Help You Learn, is published by Listen Softly London Press. You can find Tom over on his website: https://thomasmccoll.wordpress.com/