By Jim Gerrish
© 2001, Imagineering Magic. All Rights Reserved.
The old man seemed harmless enough. He could often be seen
taking long walks around the quiet urban neighborhood, talking to
no one, staring down at the sidewalk or up into the trees.
Occasionally he would take a tattered notebook out of his pocket
and jot something with a worn pencil, but no one asked him about
it. Some of the neighbors thought it was a grocery list. Others
thought the old man had Alzheimers and wrote notes to
himself as reminders. All the neighbors agreed that he was
harmless and kept to himself. The day the neighbors were asked
all these questions by hoards of reporters who invaded their
quiet neighborhood with their press trucks, microphones and TV
Cameras was, of course, the day the old man received the Nobel
Prize in Physics in Stockholm, Sweden.
Then the reporters invaded the little city of Irvington, NJ
and wanted to know everything about him. No one in Irvington had
read the old mans theory of universal expansion. No one in
Irvington read the American Physicist except maybe a few
high school science teachers, but even they seemed to have missed
that issue. No one could tell the reporters what the theory of
universal expansion was all about, so instead, the reporters
asked where the old man shopped, what he ate for lunch, what kind
of car he drove, and thousands of other questions that had
nothing to do with the reason he was in Stockholm that day
receiving applause for a theory that only a handful of physicists
The old man seemed harmless enough. But later in the day, the
F.B.I. descended on the house where he had lived alone for the
past twenty years, and put up barricades all around. It made the
neighbors nervous and the F.B.I. agents on the perimeter of the
barricades would tell them nothing. For the remainder of the day,
black vans bearing the dreaded initials F.B.I. drove up to
the house, and then the doors would open and agents would bring
out files and boxes of papers. At one point, a computer was
removed from the house and loaded onto the van. The van would be
driven away and soon another would take its place and the parade
from house to van carrying boxes and files would begin again. By
nightfall, the vans stopped coming, but the barricades remained
Don Thorpe was curious. The old man had seemed harmless
enough, taking his daily walks to nowhere in particular. He was
out of place, a gray haired white man among Blacks and Hispanics
who made up the majority of the neighborhood, but he had
disrespected no one and was not disrespected in turn. In fact, no
one in the neighborhood had paid much attention to him in the
past. All that would change, of course, if he ever came back.
Don Thorpe had seen the old mans stooped, somewhat
paunchy figure, accepting the Nobel award on the evening news.
Don had even gone to the library and tried to find a copy of the American
Physicist so he could find out what the old man had been up
to all those years, but of course, the issue wasnt in. So,
Don had gone home and turned on his computer, and eventually
found a copy of the old mans theory on-line. It wasnt
much. A page and a half at most, written in language even Don
Thorpe could understand. Don couldnt understand what the
big deal was. They were saying on the news how only a handful of
physicists could understand the implications of the theory, but
Don could easily understand what had been written. The old man
had put forth a theory that everything in the universe was
expanding. So what? Don thought that was old news.
Later that evening, watching a TV talk show, which had
invited physicists who supposedly could interpret the theory, Don
finally understood that up until that time the expansion of the
universe was just thought to be galaxies speeding away from the
earth at great distances. Nothing so close to home as the old man
had imagined it to be. His theory said everything
was expanding. Every molecule, every atom, every electron, even
the spaces between atoms, all were expanding together. Don
laughed at that. How would you ever know if everything was
expanding together? Any ruler you might use to measure the
expansion would also be expanding. And the earth was supposed to
be billions of years old? This expansion had been going on since
the beginning of time and still things managed to cling together.
Don had almost turned off the TV in disgust. What foolishness!
Instead, he went into the bathroom to take a piss. When he came
out, the talking heads had gotten around to raising the very same
objections that had occurred to Don, so he sat down again to hear
what the know-it-all physicists had to say.
Now they were talking about time. It seemed that if the
universe was expanding, then time was expanding, too. They called
it space-time and seemed serious that everything was
expanding. Not only expanding, but also accelerating
constantly speeding up, as if the universe had its foot on a
cosmic gas pedal and wouldnt let up. So the old man had
come up with some experiments to prove his theory. Thought
experiments, they called them.
That was what the old man had been doing as he had walked
around the neighborhood looking down at the sidewalk or up into
the trees. He had been gazing deep into the nature of the
universe within his head, while strolling the sidewalks of
Don was a science fiction fan, and he already knew that
Einstein had predicted time would slow down for travelers in
space. It was the basis for many of the outer space movies he
watched, including one of his favorites, Planet of the Apes.
Unlike most of his neighbors in Irvington, Don had not only seen
the latest remake of the movie, but had actually gone out and
bought the book so he could read it in its original form. Don
liked to compare the books with the movies after discovering that
the books contained many more details that had been left out of
the film versions. In reading Planet of the Apes, Don had
struggled with the idea that the astronauts had gone on a long
journey at nearly the speed of light. When the astronauts
returned to the earth after what seemed only a few years to them,
they discovered that many hundreds of years had gone by on earth.
The physicists on TV were, in fact, using that movie to
explain the same concept to the TV audience and the talking
heads. But what the old man next door had found out was that
neither the movie nor the book had gotten it quite right. Not
only would the astronauts find themselves many years in the
distant future, but the astronauts and their spaceship and
everything they brought with them would be tiny in size compared
with everything else. The apes in Planet of the Apes would
be like giants to them. That was because when time slowed down
for the astronauts, the expansion of their portion of the
universe had also slowed down, while on the earth, the expansion
was continuing at its usual rate.
Don Thorpe sat up straight in his chair as he pondered this
new idea. The physicists were now describing one of the old
mans thought experiments that had recently been used to
prove the concept. Since they couldnt wait hundreds of
years to send a space ship out and wait for it to return in a
tiny size, they had performed an experiment using the CERN
particle accelerator located on the border between France and
Switzerland. Using that device, they were able to determine that
particles accelerated to near-light speeds are always smaller in
size than particles traveling at much slower speeds or particles
That experiment had been done more than five years ago, Don
learned. Since then, scientists had been arguing about whether or
not the experiments proved the old mans theory correct. It
seems that a few physicists had other explanations for the
phenomenon. But the old man had also been busy during those five
years. He took a walk almost every day, Don had noticed. Whenever
Don had passed him on the sidewalk, Don would say
"Hello," and the old man would look at him slowly as if
coming back into focus from a distant place, and then respond
politely. As soon as Don walked on, the old man would resume his
gaze into the depths of his soul. Don had thought the old man was
senile and probably ought to have a nurse or someone supervising
his walks, but now he understood where the old man was coming
from when he spoke polite chit-chat to Don, and where he went to
as soon as Don allowed him to move on. Don now felt guilty for
interrupting what had obviously been important work to the old
man. And yet the old man had always smiled at him and chatted
knowledgeably about the weather or other current events that Don
introduced to make polite conversation. He had never made it seem
as if Don were intruding on anything as important as work worth
receiving a Nobel Prize.
That brought Dons thoughts around to the F.B.I. Surely
the old man had not been involved in criminal activity. What
possible reason could there be for the government to confiscate
all his files and papers?
One of the talking heads had just gotten around to asking a
guest physicist if there had been any dangerous implications in
"Like what?" asked the physicist, evasively.
"Well, you know, like Einsteins theory led to the
Atom Bomb," said the reporter.
"Einsteins theory of relativity certainly had
nothing at all to do with the Atomic Bomb," said the
physicist. "Einstein didnt even know others were
working on such a bomb. He was asked to sign the letter to
President Roosevelt just because his name was well known and
respected and the president would take the warning more
seriously. He knew that the bomb was possible in theory. Many
scientists knew that at the time. But his was the name the
president would respect."
"Well, it seems to me that Mr. ONeil has come up
with a theory that kind of extends relativity and I want to know
if we can look forward to any more weapons of mass destruction
coming out of this," said the reporter.
"I dont see how," said the physicist,
"Doesnt his theory have something to say about
time?" asked the reporter.
"Yes," said the physicist. "He mentions that
space-time kind of vibrates as it expands, creating a space-time
wave. Thats how he explains the wave-like behavior of
"Well, Ive been hearing rumors about a so-called
Time Bomb," said the reporter.
"I cant comment on rumors I havent
heard," said the physicist, wiggling a bit in his chair.
"Theres nothing inherently dangerous in any of the
work Mr. ONeil has done. His theories dont have
anything to do with weapons or bombs."
"Well, thank you for your time," said the reporter,
beginning to wrap up the talk show. As he yammered on about next
weeks guest, the camera zoomed in on the physicist and Don
noticed that some sweat had broken out on his forehead. Of
course, that could be because of the hot lights in the TV studio,
but the body language Don had been receiving from watching him
during the interview told him that the man was definitely nervous
about more than being on a TV talk show.
That would explain the F.B.I. nosing around the old
mans house while he was out of the country receiving the
Nobel Prize. Suddenly Don felt a chill. Maybe there was something
to this rumored Time Bomb. But what would a Time Bomb
be like? A conventional time bomb was just any old bomb triggered
by a timer. Was it possible to use time itself to create a
bomb? Don had no idea, and he was positive that the old
man had not been walking around the neighborhood planning a
weapon of mass destruction, but it seemed that the F.B.I. was not
as certain as Don on that last point.
While his thoughts were on that subject, Don Thorpe looked
out his window at the house next door. The F.B.I. vans had
stopped their coming and going. The barricades were still in
place, but as far as Don could see, no guard had been left
behind. They must have taken everything worth investigating and
just left the barricades as a warning to other citizens who might
be thinking deep thoughts about the nature of the universe. Then
Don noticed that the side door of the old mans house was
not closed. There was a slight breeze between the two houses and
it was making the door swing open and shut ever so gently, but
the movement of the door attracted Dons attention.
Grumbling to himself about the F.B.I. not being very
respectful of property, Don put on a light autumn jacket and went
out to check on the door and shut it. This was an invitation for
looters who would certainly notice the barricades and figure out
that the house was ripe for plunder. The F.B.I. might have taken
books, files and papers, but crack-heads would be looking for
appliances and other goods they could sell or trade for drugs and
the F.B.I. probably didnt give a damn about such things.
Sure enough, the side door of the old mans house was
wide open by the time Don arrived. Don slipped under the bright
yellow warning tape the F.B.I. had used as a barricade and went
inside. Don decided he would just check around to make sure a
looter hadnt already taken advantage of the situation, then
he would lock the door and leave.
Behind the door was a small flight of steps leading up to the
kitchen of the house, and another flight of steps leading down
into the basement. A light switch near the door turned on the
basement lights and Don went down to the bottom of the stairs. It
was a simple basement, with a laundry area and a tiny workbench
for home repairs. It looked as if it had rarely been used. Don
could see at a glance that no one was down there and nothing had
been disturbed. Don came back up the steps, turned off the
basement light and proceeded up into the kitchen.
The old man had installed automatic night-lights everywhere,
probably so he could make his way around the house at night. When
Don came into the kitchen, the tiny lights came on so that he
could easily locate the main wall light switches and find his way
from room to room. The kitchen was undisturbed, but Don noted
there were some small appliances that would quickly become
targets for potential thieves if left unguarded too long. The
fact that they were still in place reassured Don that the house
had probably not been broken into. Still, he was inside now and
it wouldnt do any harm to check the other rooms. It was the
neighborly thing to do.
The living room was a mess. It had evidently been the old
mans workroom, containing his desk and all the file
cabinets, papers and books that the F.B.I. had recently
confiscated. They hadnt bothered to clean up after
themselves, leaving scratch marks on the hardwood floors where
they had dragged the file cabinets to the front door, worthless
(to them) scraps of paper, old newspapers and magazines had been
scattered and left everywhere
a clear fire hazard to
Dons cautious way of thinking. He turned on the wall
switch, found a wastebasket and began cleaning up the debris left
behind by the F.B.I.
"You wont find it there," said a voice from
the shadows of the adjoining room.
Don was startled into pure terror. He froze, then cautiously
peered into the darkness. The old man limped out of the shadows
and looked into his face.
"Oh, hello Mr. Thorpe," said the old man. "I
thought you were with them."
"I thought you were in Stockholm," said Don, his
voice quavering from the fright reflex he had just received.
"That was yesterday," said the old man. "I
couldnt wait to get out of there and come back home
to this." He gestured around the room. "My own
government doesnt trust me, it seems."
"I saw the side door left open" said Don. "I
was afraid somebody had broken in to steal your stuff."
"Very neighborly. Thank you, Mr. Thorpe. I must have
left the door open when I came in. I saw the barricades the
F.B.I. had set up, so I came in by the side door."
"You know my name," said Don. In all the years he
had seen and casually spoken with the old man, he hadnt
learned his name until he had heard it on the television, and yet
the old man knew who he was.
"Of course," said the old man. "I see you
almost every day. Why wouldnt I know your name."
"Well call me Don, Mr. ONeil," said Don.
"My name is Donald Thorpe."
"And Im just plain Sam," said the old man,
shaking his hand. "No more Misters between us,
eh? Can I offer you a cup of coffee or something?"
"No, thank you," said Don. "I was just going
to clean up the mess the F.B.I. left of your living room and then
go back home. I didnt want you to come home to
this." He gestured at the scattered papers on the floor.
"I dont think it matters much," said Sam.
"Once they find out Im back in the country,
theyll probably haul me out of here and stash me wherever
theyve taken my stuff."
"Why?" asked Don. "What have you done?"
"What Ive always done," said Sam sadly.
"I think about things. Sometimes I think about things they
dont want me to think about. This is one of them."
"The Time Bomb thing?" said Don. "Is it
true? Is there such a thing?"
"No!" barked Sam sharply. "And I hope there
never will be! Not now, not ever! But that didnt stop them
from building the Atomic bomb once someone figured out how to do
"Have you figured out how to do it?" asked Don, a
"Im afraid so," said Sam. "At least I
know the theory behind it and I know its possible to do. If
I can figure it out, it wont be long before others do, too.
Thats what they dont understand. The secret is
already out. Once I hit upon the theory of the accelerating
expanding universe, it was a natural conclusion. Someone else
will figure it out before very long."
"Look," said Don. "I dont want to see
you getting hauled off by the F.B.I. just for having dangerous
thoughts. Why dont you come over to my house and well
figure out what to do about this."
"Thats very kind of you," said Sam, "but
I dont want to intrude. Theyll come for me sooner or
later and I dont want to get you involved."
"Neighbors get involved," said Don, firmly.
"Come on. If they want you, let them hunt for you."
Don turned off the lights and they went back out the side
door, locking it tightly behind them. Then they crossed the yard
to Dons house, where he helped Sam up the somewhat shaky
front porch steps.
The television was still turned on in Dons living room,
and the news was still showing old video footage of Sam receiving
the Nobel Prize, with a tiny photograph of him in the corner of
"Well, I guess I dont have to worry about anyone
recognizing me from that photograph," Sam chuckled.
"That must have been taken twenty years ago."
"Im honored to have such a celebrity as a
neighbor, and visiting me in my house for the first time,"
said Don. "Let me get you a cup of coffee."
"The honor is all mine," said Sam. "Im
lucky to have a good neighbor like you. Just a little milk, if
you please, and one spoon of sugar." He had followed Don
into the kitchen and sat down at the kitchen table, although Don
felt he should be offering his famous guest the best seat in his
living room. They sat together at the kitchen table quietly
stirring their coffee and Don noticed that Sams eyes would
occasionally seem to lose their focus and he would stare at the
table intently for long quiet periods of time.
Finally Don ventured to break in to Sams thoughts when
he saw him come back to stir his coffee and take a sip. "Is
that how you do it?" he asked.
"Beg pardon?" asked his guest.
"You seem to disappear for a long time," said Don.
"Is that how you think? Is that how you worked all this
"Guilty," laughed Sam, putting down his cup.
"Is it that obvious? I dont mean to be rude, but yes,
thats how I work things out. Some people take it as
rudeness, but I dont mean to offend anyone."
"Please dont think Im offended," said
Don. "I was just curious. You feel free to think all you
want while youre under my roof. Now that I know what
youre doing, Ill be careful not to disturb you."
"Oh, you cant disturb me," said Sam, taking a
sip of coffee. "I learned long ago how to bookmark my
thoughts and come back to them later. It was necessary to for me
to learn how to do that for the short time I was married."
Don almost sprayed his guest with a mouthful of coffee as he
burst out laughing. "I know exactly what you
mean," he said, between gasps for air.
"Shed ask me what she had just been talking about
and Id answer with a description of the origin of the
universe. Divorce was inevitable," Sam said with a smile.
"I wonder what she thinks of you now," said Don,
wiping the tears from his eyes.
"Shes been dead for about ten years now,"
said Sam. "I dont have anyone left to impress."
"Well, you impress me," said Don. "I got
divorced years ago for different reasons, but I enjoy my peace
and quiet too much to ever think about getting married
Just then they were interrupted by a flashing red light
coming through the curtains of the living room and bouncing red
reflections off the walls of the kitchen. Don jumped up and went
to look out the front window. He came back to the kitchen
"I think theyre looking for you," he said
"Well, Id better go out to them then," said
Sam. "They can be mean and nasty to people for harboring a
"Youre the winner of the Nobel Prize in
Physics," said Don in exasperation. "There have been no
announcements on TV that you are wanted for anything except some
simple respect and the acknowledgement of your own government for
your achievements. Dont go until they make you go and are
ready to explain the reason why to you and the rest of the
"My, my!" said Sam. "Are you a lawyer, Mr.
"I used to be," said Don. "I was disbarred a
few years back, so now Im an out of work lawyer, but I
still know the law and they had no business breaking into your
home without serving you a warrant. They have no business taking
you out of my house if you dont want to go."
"Well, I was looking forward to another cup of
your delicious coffee," said Sam.
"Then let me answer the door if they come
knocking," said Don.
It didnt take long for them to come knocking.
"Were looking for your next door neighbor,"
said the neatly dressed man at the door, flashing a badge.
"Have you seen him?"
"Joe? No. Hes probably at work. He works nights
down at the plant," said Don, referring to the neighbor on
the other side of his house. He tried to close the door.
"Not Joe," said the man, stopping him. "Mr.
Samuel ONeil. Your neighbor in that house." He
pointed to ONeils house to make sure there was no
mistake, although the police cars with flashing red lights parked
in front of it would have made it obvious if Don wasnt
determined to give them a hard time.
"The crazy old white man?" said Don. "How
would I know where he is?"
"Oh. Well if you see him, please call this number,"
said the man, giving Don a small white card.
"Whats he done? Gone off his rocker? I always
thought that old honky was ready for the funny farm."
"Just call us if you see him," said the man,
turning to leave.
Don closed the door and Sam stepped out of the shadows just
behind him. "That was embarrassing," said Sam.
"Oh, you mean the black-white thing?" said Don.
"I was just playing on his prejudices that I, as a Black
man, would not be likely to know my white neighbor."
"I knew exactly what you were doing," said Sam.
"Im embarrassed because it worked! Hes supposed
to be with the F.B.I. and he bought your attitude hook, line,
sinker and fishing pole. Shame on him. What next,
"Oh, I cant practice law any more," said Don.
"Im disbarred, remember?"
"And if I decide I want a disbarred lawyer to represent
me, I cant do it?" asked Sam with a raised eyebrow.
"Well, I guess you can ask anyone to represent you, even
a disbarred lawyer," said Don. "But if we ever go to
court for any of this, youll have to have a qualified
lawyer to represent you."
"Wrong," said Sam. "Ill have to have the
cheapest lawyer I can find sitting quietly in a chair on our side
of the courtroom to make what you do and say legal in their eyes.
Is that OK with you?"
"This is not going to court anyway," said Don.
"All he asked is if I knew where you were and to call him if
I saw you. I dont have to tell him shit, because you have
not been declared a fugitive from justice even to your nearest
neighbors. Tomorrow Ill have a little talk with your other
neighbors to make sure they all know they dont have to tell
the white man nothin."
"Playing on prejudices again?" said Sam.
"Exactly," laughed Don. "Shame on them."
After a short time, the flashing red lights went away. Don
showed Sam his guest bedroom and went back outside to locate
Sams suitcase where Sam had stashed it between the garbage
cans at the back of Sams house. As he put the suitcase down
on Sams bed, he asked playfully, "Is this where the
secret of the Time Bomb is stored?"
Sam tapped his head. "No," said Sam. "The
secret is stored in here. They can look all through my files and
my computer and they wont find a single mention of it. I
was too frightened to write it down. It would be best for someone
to put a bullet in my brain and do away with it. But even if they
did, its too late. Sooner or later someone else will figure
it out. In fact, they already have figured it out but just
didnt know what they were looking at."
Sam seemed to fall asleep as soon as he lay down on the bed,
but his statement kept Don awake for hours. Finally, Don managed
to drift off to sleep, his head filled with thoughts of how one
could possibly make a Time Bomb, and what on earth Sam had
meant when he implied that the secret was already known. They
both awoke suddenly when the house next door exploded.
What? Still reading? Then you may want to continue the book to find out how it all
ends, or to learn how to make your own Time Bomb in your
spare time for fun and profit. JG
© 2001, Imagineering Magic. All