Author : Burke Lerch

Alan always visited the same diner on the same date, at the same time. 7:43 P.M. Ten minutes after he first ordered the patty melt and fries, and one minute before he stood up from his table to step into the bathroom.

With a loud pop he was back in the same stall, the second one from the door. It was the best patty melt he’d ever had. Arguably the best patty melt anyone had ever had, unless someone else out there was so inspired by a sandwich that they had also built a time machine just to eat the same patty melt again, again, and yet again. Alan wasn’t an unreasonable man. He’d tried to take the mundane route and order the same meal. It was never the same. The toasted and buttered bread was never quite as greasy, or the fries were just a little stale. No, it had been worth it. There were those that would chastise him for using something as remarkable as time travel just to grab a bite to eat, but then they hadn’t eaten that patty melt.

He stepped out of the stall and pushed the bathroom door open. Perfect, yet again. Lacy was just setting the plate down at Alan’s table

“Right on time, Alan!” Lacy gave him the same lopsided smile as the last 246 times he’d made the trip.

“Better believe it.” He’d gotten the timing down to perfection on trip seventeen.

Alan slid into his booth, mouth already salivating at the sight of that beautiful sandwich. He reached out to slide the plate closer to him, but then stopped. He stopped, frozen, and staring at the plate that had sat before him so very many times.

A chip. There was a chip in the plate. There had never been a chip before. Where did the chip come from? How could there be a chip? He frantically began counting his fries. Thirty-one, thirty-two… Thirty-three?

This was bad.

This was very bad. What did it mean? Alan dreaded the answer, so much so that he missed 7:46 PM, the first bite. He quickly snatched the sandwich off the plate and sank his teeth into it. Stop. Was it different? He couldn’t tell. A part of his mind was begging him to just continue eating as if nothing unusual had happened. Oh, and he tried. He tried with every fiber of his being, but the reliably delicious meat now had the taste of unpalatable paradox.

Madness. It was madness! The world had gone mad for poor Alan. The trustworthy ticking and tocking of time had betrayed him, just when he least expected it. In that outdated diner with its tiled floors, a man’s world was falling to pieces.

“Is everything alright, Alan?” It was Lacy. The despair written on Alan’s face must have been screaming for some $3.50/hr concern.

“Alright?” he screamed, exploding from his stupor in a storm of condiments and curly fries. “The laws of time and space are failing around us, and you ask if I’m alright?”

Lacy was alarmed, but in a detached manner. Alan wasn’t the first to fall off his rocker in a two-dollar diner on a Saturday night.

“Don’t you understand what this means?” Alan shouted. “The universe is going to…”

His words were replaced by one puff of dusty air before he collapsed to the floor. Not eating the patty melt this time meant he’d never eaten the patty melt, and so he hadn’t eaten in months. The police reported the death as starvation, as much as it vexed them to do so. Paradox was a funny thing.

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