Time Inc.

Author : Travis Gregg

“So first things first,” the man began, “there is no such thing as time traveling. I’ll repeat it again for those of you who are a little slow on the uptake. There is no such thing as time traveling. The past is the past, you can’t go back.” The gristled orientation instructor had clearly done this a thousand times. He has his spiel down tight.

“What we do is put you into an alternate time stream. No matter what the boys in marketing say, and God knows I’ve told them enough times, this isn’t time travel. If you go back far enough and try and relive your life as a younger you, you won’t have the same kids, things won’t play out the same. I’d leave those lottery numbers and sports almanacs at home if and when you go. They’ll just be dead weight. I’d also strongly recommend that couples do not try the Hollywood movie idea of going back separately and trying to find each other. You will never ever ever find each other. Attraction is strongly based on proximity, but that’s neither here nor there.”

Some of the others in the orientation group had started murmuring to each other.

He continued, getting back on track, “This is a total cut from this reality and what you know of events. We get close, very very close to the Prime Reality, but every reality is different, most in imperceptible ways, but events compound and compound and it’ll be different. One way trip, no coming back.”

By this time the older couple on my left had made their way to the exit as had several others. Only about 40% of the group remained and it seemed most of those were staying because it would be rude to leave in the middle of the presentation.

I thought on it some, I was like the rest of them, hoping to redo specific mistakes. Everything different though, things won’t play out the same? I thought back on my life, the mistakes, all the things that went wrong, the bad luck even.

Sounds perfect.

Reversion

Author : Beck Dacus

In the middle of filing my taxes, I got a phone call. I hoped it would be some kind of relief from this stress, but it wasn’t to be; it was my wife’s lawyer calling, saying she wanted to meet about the settlement and matters of custody over lunch on Wednesday. I told the man I was working a double shift that day to scrape up the last few dollars for my rent, but he wasn’t budging. Presumably, Annabelle wasn’t either. I wasn’t used to thinking of my soon-to-be ex-wife as a bitch, but I couldn’t help it right then.

I hung up on him while he was in mid-sentence, and I knew Annabelle was going to make me pay for that (probably literally), but I didn’t care at the moment. I got back to the taxes. Then my doorbell rang.

“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” I said, getting up and going over to turn the knob. Out on my porch was a man in a tuxedo, reaching in his pocket to hand me something. He said, “Welcome to the end of the universe, son.”

I thought he was reaching into his pocket to hand me a pamphlet, and I said, “Sorry, I’m not religious. Maybe you can get someone else to think it’s the rapture.” I tried to close the door, but his hand pushed it back open. Surprised at this guy’s audacity, I looked at what he now held out to me in his hand. It looked like a detonator, and it might as well have been.

“How’s your day been? Are you having some adult troubles?”

That was a weird term for him to use, but it was pretty accurate. Which was also weird. “How’d you know?”

“I did my research, Mr. Dumphein. That’s why I’ve decided to give this to you.” He urged the detonator thing into my hand.

“Just tell me what this is, man.”

“It’s something that will give you what you want. Childhood.”

The look in my eyes told him to go on.

“This button will make the entire universe revert to the way it was twenty-four years ago, when you were eight. Do you remember that, Mr. Dumphein?”

I did. Most of that time, I spent laughing. Watching cartoons I could no longer remember the name of. Sneaking candy from the pantry with my brothers as accomplices. It was just… fun. Something I hadn’t felt in a long time.

“This will take you back there. It will revert everything in the universe, including this planet, you, and me. Which means in twenty-four years, I will return to make this same offer. And you will give me the same answer. That is why the universe ends today, Mr. Dumphein. Time never goes past this point.”

“Only if I say yes,” I retorted. “And how do I know this works, anyhow? Why should I believe any of this?”

“No harm in it if it’s fake, is there?”

That was a fair point. The thought of being that young again swelled in my mind, blocking out everything else, all other reason. The “detonator” felt good in my hand. Like that candy from the pantry. Like the sun on my face in Milwaukee, in 1992. Like the simple life of a child.

The last sound in the universe was a soft click.

Bleeding Gums

Author : Mark Cowling

Alan studies his reflection in the bathroom cabinet mirror. His face seems wrong — older, for a start. And unfamiliar in a way he can’t define, like something put together by the police from eyewitness descriptions.

He looks around the room, now unsure why he is there. A note has been stuck on the mirror: “brush your teeth”. Alan obeys the little yellow square. Rivulets of pink swirl down the drain when he spits. He checks his teeth in the mirror: his gums are bleeding.

There is another hand-written note stuck to the back of the bathroom door, “don’t forget to flush.” Alan stares at the unused toilet before doing as he is told.

“Ah, Mr Winter.” A man wearing an expensive suit takes him by the arm and leads him through to the living room. “We really don’t need any coffee,” says the man with a smile. Alan decides to go with him; the man seems to know what he is doing.

Alan finds himself sitting on the sofa in the living room. Opposite him are the man and a woman of a similar age, mid-thirties. They could be friends of his son, perhaps. Acquaintances from the office. But there is a business card on the table: “Vincent Fitzgerald. Swift & Richardson.” They must be lawyers.

“As we were saying, Mr Winter, the contract you signed does have a robust clause covering proprietary information. I really do wish we could do more for you.” Fitzgerald sighs theatrically and shakes his head. Alan isn’t stupid, he knows when he is being patronised.

“They’re claiming you underwent illegal information masking. Which is what they always say in cases like this.” The woman speaking now. She doesn’t seem any more sympathetic.

“Information…” Alan says.

“Yes. To prevent data scrubbing. Memories, I mean,” adds Fitzgerald. “That’s how the company is explaining the irreparable damage we believe they caused to your brain. But there is really nothing we can do. As far as the law is concerned, that data belonged to the company. And when you retired, it was your legal obligation to relinquish all sensitive and–”

The woman interrupts and speaks to her colleague directly, unconcerned with lowering her voice. “This is useless; we’ve gone through it five times already. We can’t make it any simpler.”

“Well, we have the signature. That’s all we legally need,” says Fitzgerald.

The two lawyers stand and so Alan stands too. They smile and shake his hand. They speak but Alan is not really listening. Thank you for your time. It was very nice to meet you. We wish you all the best for the future…

Alan stands in front of the bathroom mirror again. He feels uneasy, but can’t think of anything that should make him uneasy. There is a nagging voice in his head. The voice is muffled, as if underwater, something is very wrong it seems to be saying. Alan doesn’t know what to do, so he follows the advice of the little yellow note. He brushes his teeth for several minutes, spitting blood into the sink.

The Fountain

Author : Andy Tu

Reach into me and fix the leak that’s dripping my youth away. The creams, the antioxidants, the buckets of ice baths—what good have they done but stall the crawl of age? My first wrinkle, curving upwards from my left brow like an evaporating tear. A crack in a pebble.

But the research clinic might save me—their new formula. It’s worked on the cats, who no longer lounge around waiting for death to whisk them away. Now they prowl around the eco-gardens, chasing mice down and hunting birds with much cunning.

I wonder what my ex would say. He was the one who used to say that I was getting older, old, old, on my birthdays, always with that schoolboy smirk on his face like he’d just spit a wad of paper at me through a straw. I should’ve told him the first time to stop. I would scream it at him now if he were here. Stop! You words are unfair, like the world. Time is a rattling machine gun, riddling you with holes until your armor shatters and all that is left if your fragile, delicate flesh.

Please sign here. Here. And here. Flip the page. There as well. And… flipping more pages, paper dry against our fingertips, right here. Right over there.

I scribble my signature over the lines, scribbles that represent who I am. When I was a child I wrote with exaggerated curves in my g’s and b’s, dotted my i’s with hearts. Now my ink scratches along the paper. Just enough to satisfy.

Are these straps really necessary? I ask.

The doctor is a man younger than I am, a dimple stapled into his left cheek. Yes, he says. You will feel an extreme discomfort as the formula enters your blood and takes effect. Your body will convulse, but please know that it’s perfectly normal. He judges me with his eyes—judges my choice to participate, judges my beauty on a scale of 1-10, inspecting the wrinkle above my eyebrow that seems to have darkened in the last few days. Are you ready?

I… I see the magazine on the counter. The cover a flawless woman striding along the beach. Her hair licking upwards with the wind, a gleam cross her eyes. Skin like a perfectly-baked dessert, cheeks a snowy spread of ice cream. A smile without a wrinkle. She’s frozen on the page, her beauty immortal.

I nod, and gulp.

He pierces the needle in, in between my fingers, pushing that translucent fluid inside. It feels like a knife with a million jagged edges, cutting through my flesh, clawing and digging past my nerves. Up my fingers and into my wrist, through my arm and into my chest, and stomach, and legs, slowly savoring the pain.

The Architect’s Testament

Author : Morrow Brady

Through my VR glasses, I opened the file and a 3D computer model of an office tower loomed before me. This century old relic, designed by a long dead Architect, was my job for today.

I worked my way down the building, systematically walking through each floor. Each 3D building element was interrogated and its information informed the recycling schedule of the drone demolition crew. By late morning, I had reached the concrete jungle of the underground car park. 

At sub-level three, I approached three store rooms located near the lift core. Their steel doors were added to the work list of the drone crew responsible for reclaiming metal for recycling. I entered the third store room. It was sparse, except for electrical fittings and timber veneer shelving. Piecing through the specifications of each 3D object, I noticed a data discrepancy in a wall mounted light fitting. Under its warranty, where a time period was supposed to be, was a web-link. I frowned and clicked the web-link.

“Enter Light Fitting Identification Number ___” Said the simple text on display.

I puzzled at the odd workflow but switched back to the model and copied the light fitting’s number into the web page.

“Set light mounting height to 1500mm” Displayed the new text.

I cursed the convoluted processes of the dead Architect, then switched back to the model and selected the light. The computer model listed the mounting height at 1800mm. My OCD for closure, drove me to change the light fitting’s mounting height in the 3D model to 1500mm and to my delight, a fourth hidden room faded into the plan view of the model. Intrigued, I looked for a door in but found none. So I switched to god-mode to walk directly through the wall into the room.

“Limit of Model Boundary. Access Denied” Said the error message.

Frustrated, I removed my VR glasses and went for an early lunch. From the street-side café, I gazed across the park where my eyes settling on a tall tree. A concentration of bare winter branches revealed an empty bird nest. I had looked at that leafy tree all summer, but it wasn’t until autumn that it revealed its secret.

That was when a thought emerged.

I put on the VR glasses and linked to the control system of the tower’s onsite demolition unit that had been delivered a week before. I watched through the on-board camera of a survey drone, as it cleared its docking niche. A decayed tower of stained concrete and broken windows loomed before me.

As the drone descended down the abandoned lift-shift, rusted doors rose from darkness. It emerged onto the third sub-level. Inside the store rooms were crammed with old furniture and the walls stained from water damage and graffiti. The timber laminate on the shelving had peeled away long ago.

In the third store room, the light fitting waited impatiently. I manoeuvred the drone’s manipulator arm and yanked the light downward. It hinged toward the floor and an audible clunk sounded. The entire wall cracked and swivelled about its centre, sweeping blackened dust and debris in its path. Slowly, I orbited the drone around the wall and entered a room that lay silent for over a century.

It was empty.

Spinning the drone slowly, the far wall rotated into view. I trembled as I began to read the scribble of a long dead Architect.

“725, 5TH AVENUE – 2 OF 7”

And that is how my journey started.