"The Time Machine" begins with a group of men and an inventor/scientist discussing the possibility of time travel. The inventor, as it turns out, has been at work on building a time machine, and shows a model of his invention "disappearing" from the room, as proof that it has actually traveled through time. His guests basically think he's a nut, as he kind of anticipates, but he tells them that he will be travelling through time soon.
The following week, 2 of the same guests present the previous week return with a few others that did not see the model demonstration, and are surprised to discover that the inventor is not yet home. They have been instructed to begin eating, etc. without him, which they do. When he finally arrives, he is dirty, injured, wearing torn clothing, and famished-- he eats, cleans himself up, and then they all settle in to hear his story.
He has, as he explains, travelled roughly 800,000 years into the future, where he was stranded for several days. Upon his arrival, he was distracted by the native (though seemingly unintelligent) humans, and did not notice until it was too late that someone had hidden his machine in the base of a large statue. He frantically tries to retrieve it until he basically passes out-- when he wakes up/comes to, he decides to make the most of his situation and try to get to know the people and the customs of the future.
Over the next several days he discovers that the human species has separated into two new groups; the Eloi, who live above ground in blissful ignorance of any responsibility or danger, and the Morlocks, who live underground and produce basically everything for the Eloi, right down to the clothing they wear. The Eloi, however, are afraid of the Morlocks (who only come out at night), and are right to be afraid, as the time traveler finds out. After nearly dying several times, he manages to get into his time machine and escapes back to his own time.
The story is a simple one, easy to read and pretty short. I remembered most of the plot and characters from the first time I read it, which was years ago. What I don't remember is being horrified when I read it previously; not just at the prospect of what the human race had become in the future, but in imagining what I would do if I were the time traveler, knowing what the destiny of man was to be and powerless to change the future. It would be beyond depressing; the sense of helplessness and hopelessness would overwhelm me for sure, if I was ever in his (fictional) shoes.