The Strange Case of Dr. Heliogabalus

Mr. Devil’s Advocate: “So what kinds of things does the talking chinchilla say?”

He never says anything at all.

Mr. DA: “So he can’t talk.”

Well, of course he can. He’s a talking chinchilla.

Mr. DA: “Then he does talk?”

No. He has the capacity for human speech. He simply chooses not to use it.

Mr. DA: “Yikes.”

And that’s enough questions. *Flicks his eyes in your direction.* We’ve got customers.

About Last Week

We had something of a shakeup in the last post.

Mr. DA: “That’s the understatement of the century. You were assaulted by a man who vowed to kill you the next time you crossed paths. And this wasn’t the first time, either.”

That’s right. He’s threatened me before.

Mr. DA: “Just who is this guy?”

The answer is not an easy one.

Mr. DA: “Well, as your only legal advisor, I’m going to have to insist you let me know what kind of danger you’re in, and why you are in it.”

I suppose it’s time I told someone. But brace yourself: this is an ugly mess I’m in, and there is no happy ending.

This Confession is Brought to You by the Letter “M”

The man who is trying to kill me is a creation of PBS.

Mr. DA: “He works for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting?”


Back in the nineties, PBS released a number of well-remembered, educational television shows tooled for children. It was the era of The Magic School Bus and Bill Nye the Science Guy, along with perennial behemoths like Sesame Street, as well as frequent reruns of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and Reading Rainbow.

Among these was one other show that was aired on weekdays after school, and which was a personal favorite of mine while growing up: The Magical, Time-traveling Hot Air Balloon of Dr. Horatio Heliogabalus.

The central conceit of the show was to teach children about history and anthropology, using a time-traveling hot air balloon as a plot device.

A standard episode would feature Dr. Heliogabalus taking one or more passengers back in time, to give them a fresh perspective on history. Usually, the passengers were troubled people, and the lesson learned from historical events would help resolve their present difficulties.

Mr. DA: “Sounds like your standard educational children’s show.”

Yes, and Dr. Heliogabalus was always benevolent, using his unique situation only to help and educate people.

Mr. DA: “But only as a fictional character?”

That’s correct. Until recently, he didn’t actually exist.

That changed when I had a certain problem that needed fixing. And Horatio, being the generous soul that he is, used the power of his magical hot air balloon to journey into the real world, all so that I could get the same help he’d given to so many others.

Mr. DA: “And what, that turned him into a psychopathic killer?”

In a manner of speaking, yes.

You see, the most important part about this magical hot air balloon was that it only allows for paradox-free time travel, meaning that no one who used the balloon to visit the past could change history.

However, making the leap from the land of PBS into the real world was an entirely different chore for the magic balloon. And, in the process, it did somehow manage to change past events, completely by accident. Specifically, it erased its own PBS show from history.

The only ones who now remember that the show even existed are Dr. Heliogabalus and myself.

It Gets Worse

Mr. DA: “So that’s why this Dr. Heliogabalus is angry with you. You’re responsible for making the whole world forget who he is.”

That’s right. But…it gets worse.

Mr. DA: “Let me guess: erasing his show from history had some nasty side effects.”

Heh, heh, yeah.

Suffice it to say that I was not the only person who grew up watching The Magical, Time-traveling Hot Air Balloon of Dr. Horatio Heliogabalus. The show educated and inspired a generation of children around the world, children who would one day grow up to influence world events. When the show was erased, those events were also changed.

Mr. DA: “What kind of changes are we talking about?”

Well, for example, do you remember how Professor Christopher M. Brown was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics last year, after discovering a unified field theory that could be verified by anyone with two magnets and a voltage gauge?

Mr. DA: “No.”

That’s because history was changed. Without the educational influence of Dr. Heliogabalus’s show, he instead became Chris Brown, R&B Singer and bad example for children everywhere.

This photo originally showed him visiting the Large Hadron Collider, but, in true Back to the Future fashion, the image slowly changed as history was rewritten.

Or perhaps you’ve heard of K.J. Stewart—the enterprising pharmaceutical mogul who cleaned up the industry and made life-saving cancer drugs affordable to people of all tax brackets?

Mr. DA: “That doesn’t ring a bell.”

That’s because you know her as Kristen Stewart, mediocre actress and tabloid darling.

And then there is the case of Mother Mary Elizabeth of Caracas—the fearless Catholic nun whose campaign of hunger strikes and inspirational speeches was responsible for bringing an end to communism in Venezuela and ushering in a new age of industry and prosperity for the people there.

Mr. DA: “I am sure that no such person has ever existed.”

That’s because in this reality she is known as Amy Schumer.

Mr. DA: “But…that would make you history’s greatest monster.”

*sigh* I know.

Mr. DA: “Maybe even worse than my other client.”

The thought had occurred to me, yes.

And when he saw these monstrous changes to the chain of causality, Dr. Heliogabalus was horrified. The normally kind and forgiving man suddenly lost his temper. And now he has a taste for my blood.

Mr. DA: “Well I can see why. His entire life’s work was undone by that one act of helping you. And he can’t go back and stop himself from making that mistake because his balloon doesn’t allow him to change history.”

Exactly. There doesn’t seem to be any way to put the past back in its proper order, meaning that Horatio is now stuck with the reality he has created. And he blames me for all of it, which, I guess, is kind of right.

Mr. DA: “No wonder you were so hesitant to talk about it. This is heavy stuff, man.”

It’s my burden to bear. On top of everything else, there is now a deranged time traveler on the loose, looking for revenge. It’s up to me to stop him.

Mr. DA: “I’m afraid I have to advise against taking the law into your own hands.”

I might not have a choice. He’s bound to come back here one of these days. And I doubt he’ll content himself with blowing a hole in the blog again.

Mr. DA: “How are you going to stop him?”

Don’t worry. I have a plan.




[This week’s tagline: “Where people come…clean.”]