Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

Cheese: the catalyst for the end of the world?

I worked for the Temporal Institute, investigating anomalies caused by our limited access to time travel. Now, everyone knows that time travel is proscribed by the Shibe, the mysterious entities who refuse to show themselves, but demonstrate an almost prescient ability to prevent mankind’s efforts to be naughty – be it big guns, rockets, bombs or time travel devices, we are not allowed access without ‘adult’ (Shibe) permission. Which we rarely get.

I’ve seen the history programmes, the mess we made in the twentieth Century and the horrorshow we made of the twenty-first. The Shibe decided that we were not going to have the chance to turn the twenty-second into our last.

The Temporal Institute was established so we could study time and the effects of time travel in a controlled manner. The bear named Causality was not to be poked. We could go back and witness, but going back to intervene was forbidden.

It was all going well until I came back with a wedge of Stilton caught in my coat. When it fell onto the floor of the changing room I nearly fainted with terror. The Shibe were very keen on making examples of transgressors – artistically painful examples that were hung in parks, so people could be sickened while wondering just how you could do that with a human body.

Nothing happened. I and my Stilton were undisturbed. After a short while, I picked it up, took it home and ate it. It was delicious.

The Shibe only allowed us temporal travel due to a quirk of causality – because we had not been born yet, we did not exist in the places we visited. Therefore, anything there that could see us, did not. ‘Causalic Invisibility’ allowed us to witness the gamut of history. Mysteries and hearsay could be clarified. But had I ruined it all?

Apparently not. I ate the cheese and the universe didn’t die. The next trip, I tried some wine. The trip after that, I came back with more cheese. Then, I discovered bacon: eating dead flesh may be taboo, but it just smelt so good. Gradually, I became an illicit sampler of the victuals of history. But only the ones I could recognise. And nothing that moved.

I was in the bedchamber of Cleopatra VII when I had to try the wine, as the ‘trysting’ I was observing suddenly involved things I had never seen, even on the erotic relief feeds. She’d given herself to Augustus, along with her retinue, and he was taking advantage in a moment probably omitted from recorded history on censorship grounds.

As the spectacle continued, I discovered that the snakes roaming her chamber were purely decorative. The wine was poisoned.

And here I lie, dying unseen in a corner of Cleopatra’s bedchamber, an invisible impossibility that will cease to exist the moment I stop breathing – or I’ll cause a paradox that will collapse reality.

I never thought I’d be hoping to be discovered, caught and executed by the Shibe.

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The Timekeepers

Author : Matthew Harrison

“Tell Mr Hoffmann, Jimmy,” said his father.

The noonday sun outside had been dazzling, and Jimmy’s eyes were still adjusting to the dimness of the shop. The old jeweller loomed formidably behind the counter. But at his father’s prompting, Jimmy piped up, “It’s my watch. The time is wrong.”

Mr Hoffmann frowned, his white eyebrows almost meeting. “Our watches are very gut,” he said slowly, becoming Germanic in his concern. “Vot is the problem?” His son Stepan came up, his younger brow likewise furrowed.

At his father’s signal Jimmy took his watch off, reached up, and put it on the counter. “The numbers – there’s a thirteen…” Then he saw Stepan. “I bought it from him.”

Mr Hoffmann glanced at Stepan. Then he put on an eyeglass and squinted at the watch. “Ach, Ja! Dreizehn!” He took the eyeglass out.

Then with ponderous humour: “Thirteen o’clock – Ha Ha! Zat vould make you late for ze lunch!”

“It did too,” his father said.

Mr Hoffmann invited Jimmy to choose another watch. With encouragement from his father, Jimmy looked, and chose a shiny new digital one. Mr Hoffman congratulated him, and passed the old watch to Stepan.

“In a way, it’s a pity,” said his father. “We could have used the extra hour.”

“As could we, as could we,” Mr Hoffmann agreed with a smile.

When Jimmy and his father had gone, Mr Hoffmann turned to Stepan. He was not smiling now. When he spoke, it was not in German or any other recognisable language. But it seems that Stepan understood, for with a miserable expression he picked up the watch and quickly did something to it so that the numbers ran from one to twelve again.

Outside, there was a sudden flurry. The sun flipped back in the sky, and then resumed its normal course.

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Author : Gary Bremer

I awoke with a start from a dream that I’d already forgotten. Groggily registering that it was sobbing from my six year-old son’s room that woke me, I quickly glanced at my phone sitting on my bedside table. 2:41 a.m.

Shuffling quickly down the short hallway to find out why he was crying, I stumbled over our cat…unseen and lying in the center of the hall, curious at the commotion this early in the morning. She gave a slight hiss as she disappeared just as quickly as she’d seemed to appear underfoot, annoyed that I couldn’t see in the dark as easily as she could.

I found him sitting up in his bed, slouched forward and quietly crying into his hands. I sniffed my nose loudly to announce my presence and not startle him. Sitting next to him in bed, I pulled his head into my chest.

“Did you have a bad dream?”

He continued to cry, and I had to repeat myself.

He replied, “Noooo.” Some sniffles. He wiped his eyes a bit.

“Why are you upset, then?”

“I’m afraid, because I know one day I’ll die, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.”

“My little man, you don’t have to worry about that! You have your whole lifetime ahead of you. Also…”

He looked up at me.

I continued, “…scientists are making more and more progress with technology all the time. You know, they say the first person to live forever has already been born”

I could see a palpable change in his eyes. “What do you mean, Daddy?”

“Well, they say that one day we’ll be able to upload our brains into a computer, so we will be able to live forever…only having to replace parts as they wear out.”

“Wow, really?”

“Really, really. Does that make you feel better sweetie?”

He smiled slightly. “Yes Daddy, thank you. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

I tucked the covers around his shoulders as he settled back into bed, and kissed him on the forehead. I whispered, “Get some sleep.”

The cat was nowhere to be seen on the walk back to my bedroom.

Before falling asleep, I recalled my own existential crisis in my youth. In order to comfort me, my father had told me how I had nothing to worry about dying, as I’d be able to live forever in Heaven.

I started quietly sobbing to myself, as I realized my son would probably be making up his own narrative for his son 30 years in the future, just as I did tonight, and as my father did for me.

Lies. All lies.

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Stitched Up

Author : Lisa Jade

Wake up, Michael.

Can you see? Look up. See the white light overhead, the white ceiling? The walls? White, too? Good.

Now. Try and move your left hand. No, the other left. That’s it, good. Don’t try to sit up. Lie still.

Now, think back. What do you remember?

Do you remember yourself? Tall and dark with an eternal five o’clock shadow, nails bitten to stubs? You wear T-shirts, even to the office, because you feel strangled by ties.

Remember Debra? Her soft curls, her rotund body? Do you remember the way her eyes sparkled when you first met, or filled up as you slipped the ring on her finger? Do you remember your wedding day – but maybe not. You were drunk before the speeches began.

Michael. Think back, and try to remember.

Remember your job? The stresses of the office. You’d come home and kick off your pants at the door, proclaiming you were taking a beer to bed. Debra wasn’t keen on that, was she?

The fights were intense. Do you remember? Objects flung across rooms, insipid floral teacups shattered against that fleur-de-lis wallpaper you always hated. Screaming matches. The time the cops came, concerned after complaints from the neighbours.

Do you remember that? Good. You’re back to being you, Michael.

Now think back to the second of July, 2098.

You had a meeting in the next town, didn’t you? You stood at the train station, swaying, your head spinning from a killer hangover. Debra refused to speak to you when you left that morning, furious about your coming home in the early hours.

Remember feeling dizzy, Michael? Remember falling onto the tracks?

You didn’t realise a train was coming until the screaming started. There was no time to react before it hit you, sucking you into the depths of its whirring maw. Do you remember dying?

I’m sure you’d rather not.

But you need to. Because you weren’t the only one who died.

See, the Highspeed Train was pretty new. I’m sure you remember the launch ceremony. Debra picketed against it; not that you’d have noticed. They protested the poor and dangerous design.

Thing is, Michael, when the train hit you, blood and guts and bone swept into the engine. A moment later it exploded, veered off the track and crashed into the station building.

Nearly two hundred people died that day – including you, of course.

Do you remember?

Nobody’s happy about this, Michael. Tragedy only settles if there’s someone to blame. The City won’t accept that any fault lies with them. The people are baying for blood; and you’re expendable, I’m afraid.

Sit up. That’s it. Place your feet on the ground. Don’t look too closely at the stitches that hold your shredded body together. Don’t think too deeply about how you’re alive.

Look up. Do you see that door, dark in the white room? Through there you’ll find the courtroom. You don’t have to speak much – in fact it’s easier if you don’t. The City didn’t bring you back to give you a fair trial.

At least this way, you can say goodbye to Debra. Maybe you can reconcile before your half-dead body is strapped into the electric chair.

Don’t cry. It’s pointless. The City can’t reanimate you for very long anyway. You’re doomed to die regardless, so embrace this opportunity. When they ask you something, answer them. Even if your tongue is swollen or they didn’t put your teeth back quite right. Just answer the questions however you can.

Think back, Michael. Do as you’re told, and behave.

Just try and remember.

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Variations on a Theme

Author : Lauren Triola

In Universe A, you meet as children. You become high school sweethearts. You live happily ever after.

In Universe B, your family moves out of the country before he moves to town. You never go back. He marries your childhood friend, only knowing you through pictures and stories.

In Universe C, you meet at the grocery store in college. You both pick out apples at the same time. There are enough for two. You part ways, never speaking.

In Universe D, you had to use the bathroom before shopping. You get there a minute later than he did. You never meet. You always feel something missing.

In Universe E, you live on the Moon. He lives on Mars. You’re pen pals.

In Universe F, there was a run on apples. You both go for the last one. You both laugh. You chat. You get dinner. You get married. Sixty years later, you die within a week of each other and are buried together.

In Universe G, he had a bad day. He yanks the last apple free and stomps to the register. You flip him off. You never speak.

In Universe H, your friend meets him instead. She sets you up on a blind date. It doesn’t go well. You marry the waiter.

In Universe I, there are lizards. Humans do not exist.

In Universe J, your friend marries him. He’s your friend too. You don’t tell either of them about your crush.

In Universe K, they get divorced. You stand by your friend and never see him again.

In Universe L, you see an obituary in the paper. You don’t know the man, but you think it’s such a shame when people die so young.

In Universe M, you have super powers. He is your nemesis. You destroy New York.

In Universes N through T, everything is perfectly normal, but you were never born.

In Universe U, you’re allergic to apples. You meet at the cash register instead.

In Universe V, he breaks your heart. You still love him, and you hate yourself.

In Universe W, there are zombies. He does not exist. You rule Australia.

In Universe X, you work at a coffee shop. He visits frequently, but neither one of you musters the courage to do more than flirt.

In Universe Y, it’s you who has the bad day. You steal the last apple. You never speak to each other.

In Universe Z, you meet as children. You become high school sweethearts. You both plan to go into physics together in college. He dies in a car crash on graduation night. You cry for weeks after the funeral, tinkering with theories to try to distract yourself, wondering what life would be like if things had been different…

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