Rhoda followed Hailey down Ipswich Road. They had left the VW Time Machine hidden and disguised in the woods half an hour back. For the entirety of the walk, Hailey had been quoting facts about the Salem Witch Trials. Rhoda was grudgingly impressed with Hailey’s encyclopedic knowledge, but her enjoyment was marred by two great concerns: fuel and evolution.
She had almost convinced herself that the fuel situation would work out. The few hundred years forward that they still needed to go were nothing compared to the millions they had just travelled, but their uranium was nearly depleted. What if it ran out? Rhoda didn’t like living so close to the edge.
The fuel was a minor worry, though. It nagged at her but didn’t fill her with the dread of her second concern. She dreaded the consequences of their time travel. Would the world be different now?
“There it is,” Hailey said. “Proctor’s Tavern!”
Rhoda stopped walking and stared at the tavern. “The sign is in English,” she noted.
“Why wouldn’t it be in English?” Hailey asked.
“Well… I was a little worried that we had changed too much. I thought we might have interfered with evolution.”
“Nope,” Hailey said. “Humanity is still here. Everything is the way it should be.”
“But what if humans have evolved differently because of us? What if they’ve evolved horns or sight in a different spectrum or something weird?”
“Then, we’ll make fun of them,” Hailey said flippantly.
“But we’ll be the weird ones!” Rhoda said. “And they might think we’re some kind of monsters and try to kill us!”
“Look,” Hailey said calmly. “I really doubt that. If they’re still speaking the same language, we can’t have changed much.”
Rhoda wasn’t ready to accept that. They had made a royal mess of the past and contaminated the ecosystem. There had to be some consequence to that!
“We’ve got to find out one way or another,” Hailey said. “We might as well go in.”
But Rhoda barely heard her. She was considering what they would do if they found something they didn’t recognize as human. Would they go back and fix it? It would have to depend on how weird the difference was. Going back would be a one-way trip… No, that wouldn’t work. They didn’t have enough fuel to get back and even if they did, how would they fix it? Maybe they would have to go forward so they could get more enriched uranium and then go back to fix it. But who would give them uranium if they looked like weird mutants?
Hailey grabbed her by the wrist and tugged.
“Come on, Rhoda. Rip the band-aid off.”
She had a point. They needed to see how bad it was before deciding how to fix it. Rhoda followed Hailey into the tavern. The taproom looked much like Rhoda would have expected. There were tables, chairs, a bar, and a large fireplace.
A human-like figure in a puritan dress tended the fire. She was faced away from Rhoda and Hailey so they couldn’t see if she had tusks or claws and the long sleeves prevented them from seeing if she had green skin, but she did have long, brown, human-looking hair. Hailey gave Rhoda a small smile with raised eyebrows that were probably supposed to be reassuring.
“Hello,” Hailey said. “We’re looking for a place to lodge.”
Rhoda muttered quietly, “Please be human. Please be human.”
When the girl turned around, Rhoda froze and even Hailey gasped in shock. Her face was a twisted, contorted version of what a human face should look like. It was horrifying. The girl quickly pulled her mask off.
“Sorry,” she said with a guilty grin. “I forgot I was wearing that.”
Rhoda exhaled in relief. So, they hadn’t destroyed humanity by meddling with the past. In fact, it appeared that nothing they did had the slightest consequence. Did that mean time was immune to meddling? If so, it opened up so many possibilities. They could go anywhere or do anything without fear of paradox or annihilation.
“Why were you wearing a mask?” Hailey asked the girl.
The girl shrugged her shoulders. “It’s silly. There’s been some hysteria about witchcraft lately and the village folk believe that the demon masks scare witches away. It’s obviously ridiculous, but in this climate, it’s best not to fight the traditions.”
“That’s strange,” Hailey said. She sounded concerned. “I’ve never heard of that.”
There went the illusion that Hailey knew everything about Salem. Rhoda figured it must have been a fairly obscure detail. She was about to say so, but she was interrupted by a loud noise that sounded vaguely like a horse’s whinny, but much lower and louder.
“What was that?” Rhoda asked, feeling suddenly cold.
The girl’s eyes narrowed briefly, before comprehension flooded into them. “Oh, you mean the dragon,” she said dismissively. “I’ve been around it so long, I don’t even notice it anymore unless someone points it out.”
Rhoda rushed to the window to see a large, winged figure disappearing into the sky. It was a dragon! How was this possible? How had they done this?
She tried to feel guilty for altering history and to be worried about the possible consequences, but she couldn’t manage. She had been obsessed with dragons since she was a little girl and right now, she couldn’t stop imagining herself riding one.