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What Happened on Wednesday Afternoon
E.K. Johnston



He invents time travel on a Wednesday, in the morning.

At least, he thinks he does. Shortly after his discovery, the universe implodes on half a dozen separate occasions, and by the time he’s worked out the kinks, he’s more or less stopped keeping track of the days of the week.

The first place he goes, once he’s fine tuned it, is Dallas, Texas, and a certain grassy knoll. He goes for two reasons. First: OBVIOUSLY, and second: ‘knoll’ has always been his favourite of the silent letter words. He doesn’t see anything, though. The angle is wrong and it’s over too quickly and the ensuing chaos leaves him vomiting all over the upholstery.

For quite a while afterwards, he restricts himself to movie openings. The smell of popcorn is comforting, and people are always happy at the theatre. He sits in the back row and spends almost as much time watching the movies as he spends watching the people. He decides that he could hear the words “No, I am your father” a hundred first times and never get tired of how the audience reacts.

When he recovers, he hires a good tailor. Vintage shops are always available, but getting into them can be tricky if your money is from the future. If he wants to do any proper adventuring, he’s going to need some help blending in. He hires the best man for the job in 1950, only to have him faint when confronted with 1860s London. He goes back and picks a woman from the late 1990s who makes up in guts what she lacks in talent.

He regrets that decision almost immediately, too. She’s good and she doesn’t panic, even when he realizes that he’s miscalculated and picked exactly the wrong day to visit Herculaneum. But she’s got all these morals and high minded ideas about preserving the timeline.

He’s not sure why he is surprised. He hired her because she put ‘watching Star Trek’ as one of her hobbies on her resume, and he decided that meant she was up to it.

The rules end up being a good idea. Sure, he’ll never make any money off of knowing who Jack the Ripper really is, but when he goes home, he’ll find things they way he left them. Also, it means he never has to worry about her sewing pins into the collars of his shirt, which is an undeniable bonus.

At some point, he realizes that he has no idea how old he is any more. He knows how old he was that Wednesday (or whenever) when he left, but he’s not sure how many days it’s been since then. He’d go back and keep a better record, but he thinks that might be more of a headache than it’s worth. Besides, he’s got all sorts of theories about paradoxes, and none of them involve things he’d like to experience personally.

It’s the fear of paradoxes that keeps him from the future. He’s careful to never to jump further ahead than the time he left. His calibrations improve with practice, and he is able to jump more and more precisely. This means he can avoid running into himself at the movies, which is what he suspected caused the universe to implode in the first place.

His tailor quits. He gets the impression that she doesn’t approve of recreational time travel. He’s good enough now to leave her more or less exactly where he plucked her out of her own time, and he’s brought enough money to make sure he can pay her in period appropriate cash. She can’t explain why she needs to leave, but he thinks he understands.

He is the most boring time traveler in history. He never interferes, never picks anything up, never leaves anything behind, never falls in love, never breaks a heart, and, now that he’s practiced, never wanders in at the wrong moment. He watches, but he doesn’t participate, and she needed more than that, so she left him with a closet full of clothes and more moth balls than he knows what to do with.

In a last ditch attempt to restore some glory to his endeavour, he grows through several different phases very quickly. He eats in restaurants with famous people. He stalks Halley’s Comet. Vimy Ridge finally turns him off thrill-seeking again, and he spends some quality time on deserted island beaches before he regains the stomach to face humanity again.

He’s never sure of the exact moment when he began to long for home.

It’s a distinct possibility that he’ll forget everything once he gets back. If he arrives too early, he might prevent himself from ever going at all. If he arrives too late, he might not be the first one to make it back from where he’s been. He wishes he’d taken more time to really think about the ramifications.

The closest he’s ever been to his own time was opening day of Revenge of the Sith in 2005. It had been during his premiere phase early on, right after he’d perfect jumping to very specific times. Even though he’d been in California and knew for a fact that the other him was in Syracuse for the weekend, he spent the whole time worried that someone would recognize him.

If he could just remember exactly when he left, it would be easier. Those frantic moments, staving off the end of the universe had blurred his sense of time into giddiness, and by the time he’d started to pay attention again, he could barely remember the day, let alone the time. He’d hate to miss and jump into the implosions again, if he hasn’t done already.

In the end, he rolls the dice and jumps to a Wednesday he’s reasonably sure of. He finds a cheap motel with a well stocked vending machine that can’t tell the difference between quarters from 1930 and those from the 21st century. Then he locks himself in and counts more sheep than are strictly reasonable before discovering that the television gets the Weather Network.

On Thursday morning, he calls his house. There’s no answer, so he goes over to make sure he’s really gone. Once he’s determined that he picked the correct Wednesday, he dismantles the time machine immediately. He knows that temptation is coming.

For a long time, the world is flat. He can’t leave when things are boring, or because he forgot to pay the water bill again. He gets a job and tries to forget about the time he saw a bunch of half-naked Welshmen build one of the most complicated calendars ever devised as the result of a bet gone terrifically bizarre. After a while, it bothers him less.

One Wednesday morning, when his birth certificate says that he is forty-seven even though he feels at least fifty-one, he rounds a corner in Detroit and there she is. He’s in Detroit for business and hasn’t thought of her in months and months. He didn’t even think of looking her up when he got home.

She’s older, obviously, because he was so careful to put her back where she belonged, and because she’d never have let him leave her in her future anyway. He recognizes her instantly.

He’s older too, now. The proper way. But she knows him even though his measurements are no longer as trim as they once were.

She winks and walks straight past him. She has places to be and, as the briefcase knocking against his knees reminds him, so does he. For the first time in what feels like years, he smiles, and walks into the future.

It’s still Wednesday, but now it’s afternoon.

Date: 2010-06-08 07:51 pm (UTC)
colej55: (Default)
From: [personal profile] colej55
This is fascinating and so well thought out! I love your original stories. Once again, you've thrown a bit of yourself in there. Very well written and satisfying to read! Thanks for sharing this with us!

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