Professor Henri Dubois materialized behind a rock outcropping. Dizzy and disoriented, he fought the urge to throw up.
His wrist tracker said October 9, 1578. A half hour until the auto retrieval yanked him back to Carlton University in 21st century Ottawa.
Thirty minutes to set up the first Canadian Thanksgiving.
His basket of healthy foods had toppled over. He scooped up organic fruits and vegetables and gluten-free bread.
He was here because he hated American Thanksgiving. Late November was cold, with sunset before five p.m.
And that deplorable traditional American Thanksgiving fare! Hamburgers, fries, cakes. Yuck. But the menu had been set in stone since immigrants celebrated the very first Thanksgiving with uniquely American cuisine in 1888 in New York.
You didn’t mess with tradition—unless you had a time machine. He’d make sure not only that Canada would finally have its own holiday, but that they would have the first Thanksgiving. The traditions he’d establish today would be the norm, not the American travesty.
“Bonjour!” he called out to men hauling nets full of flapping fish out of long boats. “Joyeuse Action de grâce!” He pulled his cloak tight. It was a bit nippy for Quebec.
“Pardon?” a tall man asked.
Henri peeked at his tracker. Why couldn’t these French settlers speak their native tongue?
Newfoundland? These were English settlers. The time machine had veered off course.
Henri made the best of it. “Happy Thanksgiving. Join me in celebrating a fine year in the New World.”
The tall man stroked his long beard. “After a harsh year, my men deserve a celebration. What is your name, sir?”
The man bowed. “Martin Frobisher.”
Henri gushed about the Thanksgiving he had always envisioned.
Frobisher raised his hands and shouted. “Attention! We will have a grand—” He squinted at Henri. “What did you call it?”
“In the name of Her Majesty, Her Grace, Queen Elizabeth, I proclaim thenceforth the second Monday in October shall always be a day of Thanksgiving. Let us prepare game and cod and pheasant.”
Henri poked Frobisher. “I have some other delicacies to suggest.” He brandished dried kelp from the basket. “Healthy choices.”
Frobisher frowned. “Well, we already have some game, Monsieur Dubois.”
A voice called out from nearby trees. “Professor Dubois, a moment please concerning Carlton University,” a twentyish woman in a simple frock said.
“One moment,” Henri said to Frobisher.
“Sir, it’s an honor to meet you,” the woman said when they were alone. “You are the most famous Canadian scientist— physicist. Well, maybe—” She cleared her throat. “You’re messing with the timeline, eh.”
He had never seen this woman before. “I’m trying to right a terrible wrong,” Dubois muttered.
“We can track your temporal moves from the twenty fourth century.” She glanced into the basket. “Squash? Tofu. Wheat germ?” She pushed the basket away with her foot.
“For a heathy celebration,” Dubois said.
“Good God, I forgot about that gluten-free, organic, low carbs nonsense. Not on my watch!” The woman produced a pencil-sized silver object and shot a red beam at the basket. It vanished.
“I spent a lot of money at Loblaws for that food,” Dubois said.
“That sort of food’s boring,” the woman said. “Not much to celebrate.”
“It’s delicious,” Henri lied.
“Right.” The woman sighed. “The basket’s back at your lab.” She rolled her eyes. “How are people in this century supposed to get tofu and wheat germ anyway?”
Dubois was really getting annoyed with this meddler. “Look, mademoiselle, I will not eat junk for an American holiday again. Canada deserves its own Thanksgiving.”
“The first colonists had enough to do without putting a straitjacket on their diet, eh,” the woman said.
“So, you’d rather have them eat pie or fried potatoes or some enormous fatty meat. Like turkey!” He was shouting.
“Are you done?” the woman asked. “God, the history books sure glossed over a lot about you. You’re a friggin’ jackass.”
The comment stung. “I’m not a jackass,” Henri said.
She stared into her palm. “Well, you’ve altered the time line, alright, but not in a serious way. We—”
The auto retrieval rocketed Henri back to the future.
In the lab, Henri vomited all over his food basket. Great. Just great. When his head stopped spinning, he washed up in the hand sink.
The phone rang.
“Henri, mon ami, how’s it going, eh?” It was his brother, about the only person who ever called him.
“Pas si bien, Justin,” Henri said.
Justin paused. “Henri, could you stop complaining for a minute? It’s Thanksgiving.”
Henri’s heart leapt. “Thanksgiving? In October?” He had succeeded. Canada had its own Thanksgiving at last.
“Every year, Henri. Mom’s made all the fixings. Turkey. Mashed potatoes. Stuffing. Rolls. She didn’t have time to get pie. She’s really hoping you can make it this year.”
“I don’t know,” Henri said. “That’s not very healthy.
“Damn it, frère, I love you, but you’re such a jackass sometimes,” Justin said. “You know Mom’s having a real hard time since Dad died, and the kids really want to see their uncle.”
Maybe he was a jackass. If time travelers from the distant future and his own brother thought so, could he really dispute the fact?
But that meal. Turkey? Mashed potatoes? Hot buttered rolls. Gravy. It sounded positively…
Maybe he was too caught up in health fads. “I’ll be there,” Henri said after a minute.
“Fantastic!” Justin said. “Of course, today’s just a warm up for the real Thanksgiving, eh? Turkey. Pilgrims. Football.”
“Plymouth rock. First Thanksgiving? You’re working too hard, Henri.”
“First Thanksgiving? But, Canada—”
“Yes, Canada did it first, but the States perfected it. Like hockey, mon petit imbecile.” Justin hung up.
He had only partially succeeded. Well, turkey beat cheeseburgers. At least he’d fixed that.
Maybe the Universe had saved him from himself.
He’d pick up strawberry rhubarb pie from Loblaws on the way to Mom’s.
Peter Wood is a lawyer in Raleigh, North Carolina where he lives with his very patient wife. He has had stories published in Asimov’s and Every Day Fiction. He grew up in Ottawa. Thanksgiving in October has always seemed to him a sensible tradition. A slight nip in the air. Still light at night. Plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in the stores and roadside stands. No Christmas decorations up anywhere yet. The Canadians are wise, indeed.