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A clever, determined girl builds a time machine and visits the Great Library of Alexandria


Some people think I’m brave, but I think everyone is amazing by accident sometimes.

Hi! I’m Valerie Li. I’m 12 years old, and my proudest achievement is making a time machine. I’ve only made one because my parents got really upset about all the spoons, tape, and tin foil I used and screeched, “Where did our stuff go?”

To be honest, I don’t think they liked it when I cried, “To another dimension!” Thankfully I don’t care, because I’m shameless!

Chapter 1

“Valerie Mei Li! Come down here right now!” Mom screeches.

Welp, I’m definitely in big trouble—Mom is using my full name. I sheepishly tiptoe out of my room and down the cold wooden stairs, mentally preparing myself for a long, long lecture.

It’s been a while, but Mom is still fiery-inferno mad because she has no spoons to eat her Cocoa Puffs. That’s why I’m hiding out in my bathroom tub with my cat, Mr. Jiggles, trying to figure out how to make Mom less mad. Really it’s her own fault for not providing me with a handy younger sibling to torment. Being an only child is so boring, and it also means I get way too much attention from my parents. I keep telling my parents, “If you give me a sibling, I could annoy him instead of you.” But so far, none have appeared.

“Mr. Jiggles,” I moan. “What do you think about all of this? It’s totally Mom’s fault for not getting me a human sibling, right?”

Mr. Jiggles looks at me with supreme indifference, then leaps out of the tub and attempts to eat my shower curtains. He’s always been jealous of my curtains because they feature a mountain of dogs and cats taking a bath. He wants to be the only animal in my life.

“No, Mr. Jiggles!” I cry, trying to pry the curtains from his jealous dagger teeth. But it is too late. My beautiful curtain already has a giant, Jiggle-size hole in it. Mom is going to kill me! She’s already in a bad mood, and now there’s a hole in the bath curtain? Even worse, she’ll never believe it was Mr. Jiggles. Soon the noise of our battle will attract her and she’ll part me from my iPad forever! Desperate, I frantically try to put the missing curtain piece back, but when the sunlight hits it, I notice it looks eerily like a picture I saw of the Great Lighthouse of Alexandria, torch and all. That’s when I get a lightbulb of a crazy idea. What if I try making a time machine again—but this time with the trash my parents were going to toss?

Chapter 2

I quickly stirred my plan to action by making a poster to let my neighbors know I crave their trash. It looks like this:

Hi, Neighbors!


I’m Making a Time Machine (No Moldy Food, Please)

Your Neighbor,

Valerie Li


Now I just need to wait to get some trash . . .

Chapter 3

Ding dong, the doorbell is ringing! Someone must have trash! I run downstairs to open the door, but Mom gets there before me.

“Val, why is Mrs. Nolan here? What did you do?” Mom asks, her eyebrows scrunching together like two menacing thunderclouds.

Uh-oh. I guess I need to explain . . .

“Umm . . . I kinda need trash to make a new time machine. I’m sorry, Mom—I just didn’t want to take all your spoons and restrict you from eating Cocoa Puffs.” Her eyes soften a bit. She probably realizes if I start making time machines, she might finally have the house to herself again. After all, I’d be in another timeline—running from dinosaurs or something.

“Why didn’t you say so? We have a bunch of recyclable trash right here. You didn’t need to bother our neighbors. Why, what must they think of us not giving our dear daughter enough trash?”

“Good point, Mom. I’ll take my poster off our roof.”

The roof? How did you get it there?” Mom exclaims in shock.

“A magician never reveals her secrets!” I cry, rushing upstairs to escape Mom.

From my room, I can hear Mom explaining to Mrs. Nolan I have all the trash I need for ten centuries.

Later today, Dad comes home to a mess of a house. “What happened here? Why is there trash everywhere?”

“Sorry, Dad! I’m just building a time machine so Mr. Jiggles can visit other worlds . . . and I can go back in time and buy stock in Apple.”

“Oh . . . that’s nice, honey,” Dad says, his nose already buried in his paper. He never really listens, but he’ll see. Once I can go to the past, he will be so shocked his eyes will pop out and he won’t be able to get distracted ever again. Muahahahaha!

Chapter 4

“Finally, it is done! Ladies and gentlemen, marvel at my amazing creation!” I say to no one in particular.

This often happens to me—talking to no one in particular—because there’s no one in this house who really listens. I think I even bore Mr. Jiggles, judging by his current fascination with a dust ball.

This is why I am making a time machine. I am bored and need to find an adventure . . . and a way to make money. I am thinking with a pile of money I could buy more cat food to bribe Mr. Jiggles to stay with me so I don’t end up alone. They usually say women are afraid to end up alone with cats but personally, I wouldn’t mind it. I would love to be a crazy cat woman!

Anyhow, back to my mind-blowing machine—it’s finally done! It’s mostly made of cardboard but also has some random plastic and paper inside that I found around the house. What I’m looking forward to is proving kids are not as silly as adults think. I will become a child genius! I can do whatever I want and eat so much candy and ice cream my brain will melt!

Anyways, back to reality. It’s time to try out my time machine.

“Mr. Jiggles!” I scream. “Come here! It’s time to try out the time machine. I’ll give you foo-ood!”

“Val, don’t be so loud. I’m on a phone call!” Mom screams.

Hmm, I wonder how I learned to scream?

“Okay, Mom. I’ll be quiet!”

Mr. Jiggles finally skitters in, probably because he knows who provides his kibbles.

“You made it! Ready to try my time machine?” I ask. Mr. Jiggles gives me a look that says, Do I have a choice?

Holding my breath with excitement, I drop him into my time machine, hope for the best, and tell Mr. Jiggles to pay attention to everything so when he returns, I can journal his experiences.

“Bye!” I shout, my excitement bubbling as I press the red “time travel” button.

Ah! To have its smooth red surface finally descending beneath my fingers . . .

Chapter 5

The excitement doesn’t last long because not a minute later, I hear an ear-splitting Meow! echo from my time machine. My excitement quickly dissolves into terror as I begin to think something terrible has happened. Although I would never admit it, if my sole companion gets devoured by a dinosaur, I just might miss him, but only a bit. Jiggles can be pretty annoying at times. Thankfully, I don’t need to think about it, for at that moment, I see a familiar furry head pop out from the time machine.

“Mr. Jiggles! You’re back! That was fast. Are you okay?” To my surprise, he replies in perfect English.

“Are you crazy? I’m your only friend, for goodness sake!”

“Excuse me. I have lots of friends!” I protest, my cheeks reddening with outrage. “Suuuuure . . .” he says. “Whatever helps you sleep at night.”

“Wait. Why are you even able to talk? Go back to meowing.” Who knew my cat was so snarky? Jeez.

“Well, it’s actually your fault. You’re the one who stranded me at the Great Library of Alexandria! Why didn’t you warn me about the fire? Did you want my fur singed?”

“Wait a second. Did you just say you were meowing around the Great Library of Alexandria? Oo, please tell me you got some cool books!”

“Well actually, you see, I was too busy running for my life to get any books . . .”

What! Is he crazy? He went to THE Great Library of Alexandria and didn’t get a souvenir for me? How rude, I pout.

“It’s okay, Mr. Jiggles. Let’s just go back!”

“What? You want me to return to that hair-singer? Nuh-uh, not happening. Hey, hey! Let me go, I am not going back! Let me go!” Mr. Jiggles protests as I snatch my sole companion in my arms and try not to get scratched.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Jiggles. We’re going pre-fire. Maybe we can save the library

. . . ’cause the day it burned, we lost a thousand years of wisdom.”

After sprinting into my time machine, I bend down to press the red button and prepare myself to escape this boring old place. I am practically salivating at the thought of doing something heroic (saving the world from itself and acquiring some cool new books, a dynamic duo) when a blue light explodes from under my feet and starts to engulf me, spinning me into a tornado of time.

Chapter 6

We land in a glass dome by the sea, in a lush garden filled with bookshelves, fountains, and greenery. Scholars in sandals and flowing togas are lounging in the garden with scrolls in their hands, animatedly discussing the wisdom inside.

From behind a Corinthian column, Mr. Jiggles and I peer at the scene.

“I can’t believe I’m actually here,” I breathe, wonder lacing my voice. “Did I actually build something that works?”

“Please close your mouth. You’re drooling on my fur,” Mr. Jiggles sniffs. “Know thyself,” I whisper, reading the words emblazoned across the main entrance arch. “Wait a second.” I goggle. “Shouldn’t this be in Ancient Greek or Latin or something? How can I read it?”

“I always told you you underrate yourself.” Mr. Jiggles laughs. “Maybe your time machine turned you into a genius.”

“Oh, but Valerie Li, you already are a genius,” says a golden voice. My dream words. Maybe she’ll adopt me?

A beautiful lady with large, intelligent eyes strolls toward us, her humble, cream-color tribon flowing from her white shoulders like liquid wind.

“The stars told me you would come, Valerie Li,” she says, her musical voice dancing.

“What stars? It’s sunny outside!” I blurt.

“Val, stop being an idiot,” Mr. Jiggles mutters. “She obviously meant ‘at night.’ Don’t you know who she is? Stop being rude!”

My cheeks redden in outrage.

“Jiggles, why would I know who she is?” The lady smiles.

“Hypatia,” she says, extending a graceful hand to me. “I’m a teacher in this library, which is probably why this cat knows me. I swear I saw you around . . .” Hypatia’s face scrunches up in thought for a second. “Oh, I’m sorry. Would you like to talk over a meal? Don’t know about you, but I’m famished.”

“Uh, sure . . .” I say, still in shock at this strange stranger.

We stroll beneath another dome with cathedral ceilings supported by beautiful golden buttresses and sparkling windows.

“I’ll be right back with the morning meal,” Hypatia says warmly. “Have a seat anywhere.”

A moment later, she breezes back with cone-shaped bread and a bowl full of some kind of shells in sauce.

“What is that?” I ask.

“Oh, these are snails—my favorite! I’m so glad you came on a Tuesday. You just drill a hole in them like this and suck out the meat.”

“Umm . . . no thank you.” Hypatia sighs. “Picky eaters.”

Mr. Jiggles and I look at each other. I look at the snails again. I am considerably hungry, but . . .

“Do you guys have Cocoa Puffs?” I blurt.

She gives me a look, then proceeds to slurp snails while we nibble on bread, which by the way has sand in it. Then I remember from a history documentary I watched that the Ancient Egyptians used sand to grind their wheat.

“So what is it you wanted to talk to us about?” I ask in between sandy bites. “Well, I was hoping you could save us. However, the stars are very vague on how.” “Seriously. Of all people, Valerie?” Mr. Jiggles gawps.

Hey, what do you mean? I’m amazing!” I protest.

“Valerie,” Hypatia interrupts. “I’d like to speak with you. Privately, if we may.” “Uh . . . sure.”

Hypatia leads me back to the room from whence we came, which is now empty of people.

“Valerie, do you know what our library means?” “Um, not exactly?”

“For six hundred years, the Library of Alexandria has been a bastion of knowledge. Every time a ship sails into port, we scour it for books, and if we find one worthy of copying, we do. The Bible was first translated into Greek here so that the common people could read it themselves, because we believe everyone should have access to wisdom. As Aristotle said, ‘Whether an empire rises or falls depends on the education of its children.’ That is why your world is dying.”

“How did you know?”

“The stars told me. I saw the destruction of this library, of a thousand years of wisdom, and a world, your world, where the people in power are choosing power and profit over love and wisdom. If you can save this library, maybe you can save your world.”

“No pressure!” Mr. Jiggles laughs, sticking his head from around a column. “This is supposed to be a private conversation!” I huff.

“Pressure can be a privilege, as it means what you’re doing matters,” Hypatia says, looking at me with eyes as old as time as she slips a roll of parchment into my hands before disappearing into the garden.

Chapter 7

“Do you think she left to get my Cocoa Puffs?” Mr. Jiggles asks. “You mean my Cocoa Puffs?”

“No. I’m hungry too, you know.”

“Mr. Jiggles! Snap out of it. We should be thinking about how we can save our world by saving this library!”

“Oh fine. What was that paper she gave you?” “Oh yeah!” I say, unrolling it.

To save the library, you must find the future king. Persuade him the pursuit of power is not the thing.”

“The future king?”

“C’mon Val, you should know this! Who burns down this library when he burns all the ships in the port?”

“Oh my gosh! Julius Caesar!” I scream. “Uh, how are we supposed to get a meeting with him?”

Mr. Jiggles grinned.

Chapter 8

Everything is set. It’s time!

Time? Time for what, you must be wondering. It’s time to roll out of a carpet . . . Cleopatra style!

Mr. Jiggles and I did some research and found out Caesar likes women, carpets, and women rolling out of carpets. But only Jiggles will be naked, of course. This is a rated G story.

Hypatia has agreed to present us as a gift. As I am in the rug right now (trying not to sneeze as we cool our heels outside his tent), I must admit, I cannot wait to scare an ancient old man! I wonder if this is how Cleopatra felt.

“Sir, Hypatia says she has a gift from the future for thee,” I hear a soldier’s muffled voice announce.

“The future?” Caesar asks, looking wearily up from his war maps. At least I assume the papers I hear rustling are war maps.

“Indeed,” Hypatia says, unfurling the gorgeous vermillion carpet we bought for five debens at the local souk at his feet. “Two thousand years hence.”

“Arghhhhh!” we yell as Jiggles and I tumble forth.

I throw my arms wide, trying to look appealing as Caesar jumps back in shock. “Hypatia,” Caesar chides. “Why dost thou bring me a girl and a cat in a rug?” “Oh, we heard you like people gifted to you in rugs! You even have a history with them!”

“I’m in history?”

“Yes! You are indeed remembered, but it is a tragic tale of power and betrayal.” “What? But I’m so loved!”

“That is exactly it. Sixty senators are jealous of you, and at this very moment they are conspiring to do you in in a very bloody and personal way. Didn’t Spurinna tell you, ‘beware the Ides of March’?”

“How did you know? That was a private bull-sacrificing event!” “It’s in a play I read at school.”

“I’m in a play? Am I the star?”

Rectangular Sky
Rectangular Sky

“May we stick with the subject here?” I say impatiently. “My point is, please don’t burn down the ships in this harbor, as it will burn down the library and the human race will lose a thousand years of wisdom. And for personal reasons, it’s not going to help you to become more powerful, as it will just lead to your untimely and very painful death.”

“You’ve got to choose love over power, friend,” Hypatia says gently. “You’re already the most powerful person in the empire. When will it be enough?”

“I do have trouble sleeping,” Caesar says. “I think I’m a little stressed constantly having to conquer all these countries.”

“When I’m stressed, I eat Cocoa Puffs,” Mr. Jiggles offers helpfully, holding out a plastic baggie.

“You had a stash all this time?” I ask, and Mr. Jiggles and Hypatia hush me.

Caesar looks thoughtful.

“Yes, perhaps I shall try these so-called Cocoa Puffs. Thank you for your suggestion. Perhaps I shall not set fire to the harbor’s ships after all . . . maybe I should hang out with my Cleo more.”

“I think we just gave him a free therapy session,” I whisper to Mr. Jiggles. “Maybe I’ve found my calling!”

“I think you need to finish sixth grade first.” Mr. Jiggles laughs.

Chapter 9

As Jiggles and I stand by my time machine with Hypatia blowing kisses at us in farewell, I start to wonder what my world will be like now that we’ve saved it. Will there be flying cars? No wars? No global warming?

Although I am sad to leave, I cannot wait to see my new and better world. Hopefully, I did not erase my birth. But I guess that’s a small price to pay when you’ve just saved the world.