by A. L. Munson
I can tell by Mel’s demeanor that she jumped again. She blinks her eyes as she reorients herself. “It’s now 8:16pm on November 4th, 2034,” she says.
Seven years this time. Each jump is longer than the last, but I’ve yet to find any predictable pattern to them.
Mel resumes pacing the concrete room, and I sit quietly in my chair, waiting for her to say something more. Speaking to her is pointless. She can’t hear me. Though Mel is physically present, her conscious mind is over a decade into the future.
“Yes,” she says in answer to something I must’ve asked—something I will ask. “Oh, wait! I forgot to tell you the question. Sorry, I keep thinking I’m speaking to the ‘you’ who’s right in front of me and not the ‘you’ who’s still in the past. You look so much older, Amy. No offense.”
I heave a sigh and glance at the recording time on my video camera’s screen. Eight hours and twenty-seven minutes—that’s how long we’ve been communicating this way. Eight long hours here in the lab’s basement.
It started last night when Mel called me in a panic. There’d been an accident while she was testing the temporal shift machine. Throughout our phone call, she responded to my thoughts before I even said them. By the time I arrived at the lab, she was talking to a future version of me that I couldn’t see. That’s when I grabbed my camera and brought her down here.
“You asked if I feel like I’m aging,” Mel says. “The answer is yes. But like the last several jumps, I can’t see or feel myself moving or hear myself speaking. I mean, I can hear the replay of my words on your video camera, but I’m sitting motionless in a chair. I am still moving where you are, aren’t I? Probably pacing back and forth like I always do when I’m anxious. It’s so strange to have my thoughts and my senses here in the future controlling my body in the past.” She glances down at her hand. “The IV drip’s still there, and I can feel wires on my head. I think you’re monitoring my brainwaves. God, Amy! What happened to me? Why can’t I move anymore?”
She stops pacing and stares at the wall just to my right. I assume that’s where my future self will sit.
“Amy, what if this doesn’t stop? I mean, it’s been years! My back aches even in this chair, and my vision’s not as sharp as it used to be. I know I’m not aging where you are, but what if I reach the point where I’m… where there is no ‘future me’ to see and hear through?”
I have no answer for her. Maybe, by 2034, I will.
Mel places a hand on her forehead and sways like she’s going to pass out. After a moment, she steadies herself, but her back hunches slightly like she’s lost bone density.
“Yes, I’m here,” she says. “What’s that now?… Please tell me that’s a joke!”
“I need the date and time, Mel,” I mutter under my breath, “or I won’t know when to meet you here.”
As though responding to my gripe, she says, “It’s 3:05am on May 10th, 2049.”
Fourteen and a half years. More than twice the length of the last jump. Mel was thirty years old just eight hours ago. Now she has maybe one or two jumps left before she dies of old age.
“Come on, Amy! You, Seth, and Laura are the most brilliant physicists I know. You must have some idea of how to stop this. Are you even trying?”
Her dim eyes narrow. “You’re not, are you? You’re just monitoring me as part of your experiment. Do Seth and Laura even know I’m here? Do they know what’s happened to me? You’re the only one I’ve seen since all of this started. Year after year, it’s just you and your recordings and your notes. For fuck’s sake, Amy! You were supposed to be the one in the lab that night! You were supposed to run the tests on that fucking machine! I covered your ass and this is what I get? How dare you!”
She’s not wrong. She is part of the experiment now, though that was never the intent. The machine was supposed to send a probe into the future, not the conscious mind of one of our physicists. But the fact that it sent anything into the future is a major breakthrough—the kind that could win a Nobel Prize. I’d be a fool not to isolate her and study the results.
Mel runs to the door and collides with it. Her hands grope around for a knob that she can’t see or feel. Even if she manages to find it, it won’t matter. I locked the door hours ago and stashed the key in my pocket.
“Seth! Laura!” She pounds her fists against the thick, metal door. “Get me out of here!”
The basement lies beneath layers of concrete. She can scream all she wants. No one can hear us down here.
Mel kicks the door in frustration, reminding me of a lab rat that bites at the bars of its cage.
“What did you say?” She turns in my direction. “What danger?… No… No, I won’t relay the message. Knowing you, you’d use the information to save yourself and no one else.”
I sit up straight in my chair, now fully attentive. What “danger” is she referring to?
“I’ll make a deal with you,” Mel says. “I’ll tell the ‘you’ in the past your message if, and only if, you get me out of this room and take me to someone willing to help me. You can’t keep me locked away down h—”
The severe look in her eye disappears as she places a hand on her head and grimaces in pain. Another time jump.
She heaves a few heavy breaths before lowering her hand. “Amy? Are you in here? Hello?” Her eyes scan our surroundings as though they’ve changed. “I guess I’m still talking to ‘past you.’ I don’t know what year this is. Usually, you’re here to tell me, but I don’t see you. The lights are out, and the room smells musty. I hear something dripping, like a pipe is leaking somewhere. Did you abandon me? If you left me here to rot, I swear to God—”
Her eyes shift to the door. “Amy,” she says in a whisper, “someone’s trying to get in. They’re ramming the lock.”
She backs away until she runs into the wall. “The door’s not holding!… What the—”
Mel raises her arms in front of her face, as though shielding herself from an attack, and lets out a piercing scream.
Her body goes limp against the wall and slides to the floor.
I run to her side to check her vitals. She’s still breathing and her pulse feels strong, but her eyes are glassy and she doesn’t move a muscle.
What attacked her? Was it the “danger” my future self warned of? How far into the future was she when this happened? Only Mel knows the answers to these questions, and she’s past the point of relaying them. All I know is that I wasn’t there. Maybe I did abandon her. Or maybe the “danger” got to me first.
I walk back to my camera and, with shaky hands, rewind the recording to the beginning. Mel’s first major jump was to October 18th, 2023 at 5:53pm.
“I guess I’ll see you then, Mel,” I say to her slumped-over form.
I make a note to get an IV drip and an EEG machine to detect when her consciousness reappears. But I wonder about that warning she wouldn’t give me. I have until 2049 to figure it out. I only hope that’s enough time. As Mel knows, years go by much too quickly.
A. L. Munson is an archivist, physics major, and member of the Vancleave Live Oak Choctaw tribe. She is originally from Louisiana but now lives in Kansas where she practices archery and photography on her free time. She is working on her first novel, but short stories and poetry tend to lure her away from it. You can find her at almunson.com.