Thursday, May 1, 2014

Flash Fiction: Maybes and What Ifs

I'm doing Story A Day May right here. Knowing that my goal is to write and post a story each day helps me feel a little more motivated to actually write one every day. Otherwise, I might fuck around with obsessive re-working and the sort of behaviors that might stop me from moving on to a new story. I'm looking at this as a series of sprints, as opposed to NaNoWriMo, which is more of a marathon.

Today, I used the Neil Gaiman guest prompt from Story A Day's webpage, which involved writing about a character desperate to get home, and twisted it up with a Time Travel theme. The finished story is a little under 1000 words. I've been first reading submissions for Crossed Genres magazine's Time Travel issue in recent days, so I've been thinking about time travel stories much more than I usually would.

Maybes and What Ifs

Shane knew that he’d never really get home, but he was so close.

When testing the small time traveling device he'd built, it threw him into the future for a brief moment and back again, but at a tilt. And then it broke. The only one in existence, and when he bounced back he’d overshot that waypoint by a couple days. To a time before he’d figured out that one last thing that would make the stupid machine work.

And now the blueprints were in his house. In his old house.  Where his real body still lived.

During the return trip Shane’s thoughts, his spirit, whatever made him who he was, had been forced into a new body. That of the elderly neighbor across the street.  

It took him much longer then he’d ever thought it would to realize that he was wearing someone else’s skin, but his partner, Nick, had always said that Shane had never been that observant of daily minutiae. Always caught up in some new project. He’d also been a bit of a hypochondriac, perceiving lots of little aches and pains every day, but now they were all real. He’d woken up in a dark room as well, so that didn’t help his perceptiveness either. The new body needed glasses to see. He hadn’t even considered that before.

As it stood, Shane wasn’t sure if his mind was just pasted in over the old man’s. Sharing the same space. Displacing him altogether. Or if they had somehow switched bodies completely.

He pondered this for the first day and didn’t leave the master bedroom suite. The aches and pains took some time to get used to, and he had to find his glasses. It was all very different. The brain holding his thoughts felt different. Forgetful. Circling back as each thought examined itself over and over until the idea stuck. He was dealing with the same data, but different hardware.

He tried to remember what he knew about this neighbor. Hell, he’d never even learned his name.

In the evening he looked out the window and saw himself across the street.

On the second day Shane had a much easier time with everything. He checked the mail and learned his name—the neighbor’s name. Gerald.

He entertained the thought that maybe his past mind was still in that body across the street. It was probably still working on that time machine as he had been. It was probably on the verge of the same breakthrough he’d made, but could no longer remember.  

Maybe he would just zap right back to where he had been once the experiment was all completed. Correcting the time. Setting everything right as it had been.

When had he done that experiment? Well, it’d been pretty late. He’d probably go to bed and wake up in his own house. No problem. So, he went to sleep that night.

And woke up to search for his glasses. Shit, it hadn’t worked.

Shane got up and dressed. He made coffee in Gerald’s unfamiliar kitchen, wishing he could go back home, but all he could do was sit on the porch and watch it from across the street. This is what Gerald did all the time. It wouldn’t be suspicious.

It was always a little unnerving to feel watched, but on this side it felt more like observing.

Now, he realized all that he hadn’t seen before. He remembered when he and Nick had bought the house. Picking out the furniture. Wanting everything to be perfect because this was where they wanted to live for quite a long time. They adopted a pug. Later they had a baby via surrogate. Jacob. His life had been pretty good, and he could sit here and reflect on it all like watching a movie up close; a movie in which one was far too emotionally invested.

Nick knew most of the people in the area. He’d probably talked to Gerald at some point. Maybe he’d sat on this porch and they talked. Maybe they’d talked about Shane’s experiments. Nick supported most of his career, but the stranger stuff had to stay in the garage. Shane wondered if Gerald was interested in that sort of scientific experiment. Time travel. What the hell had he been thinking?

Shane sighed.

Across the street, Nick went outside holding Jacob.

Shane had watched the house so long—dwelling in his thoughts—that he’d almost forgotten that he wasn’t over there. That was until he saw himself again, carrying a box of what looked like electronics and computer parts. He dumped them into the trash can. That’s when Shane really knew he and Gerald had switched bodies.

Gerald in Shane’s skin stopped to look across the street. They waved at each other, Shane more restrained in his motions. Nick took notice and waved too, causing Shane to flood with embarrassment. He couldn’t believe how he’d screwed everything up just trying to go a little bit into the future. A little bit into the past. Thinking of all this progress and advancement. Wanting to answer all those What If questions.

Now, he didn’t even have his own life, and he’d aged forty years. The gravity of the situation finally set in. This wasn’t some freaky little vacation. He was stuck.

Nick got in the car. And Shane watched his body across the street. Gerald in Shane’s skin watched a bit longer and grinned before getting into the car right next to Nick. Forty years younger. Perfectly content to be where he was.

Shane in Gerald’s skin waited for them to drive away. He walked across the street to pick up the box of equipment. It contained most of the components he’d been putting together, and some of his notes. What if he could rebuild it? Maybe he could get back home.

No comments:

Post a Comment