Authors: Shawn Inmon
The Unusual Second Life of
By Shawn Inmon
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Cover Design/Interior Layout:
Published by Pertime Publishing
Temporal Relocation Assignment Department, Earth Division
The tall, white-clad figure walked the narrow aisle. On either side, identical desks extended beyond where the human eye would have expected them to disappear over the horizon. She lingered a moment at each desk, glanced at the individual's work, tapped a manicured finger lightly against the desk, then moved on.
At one desk, she stopped and spent several moments examining the scrolling information flow. She lowered her chin to gaze over the tops of her half-rim glasses. “Thomas Weaver, Middle Falls, Oregon, United States, North America?”
The worker, a round-faced, unruly-haired female, kept her eyes glued to her work. “Yes, Margenta.”
“Emillion, how many cycles are you watching over?”
“And how many souls?”
“Three hundred forty-three, of course.”
The tall woman nodded, as if that were the expected answer. “It is policy, is it not, to give equal attention to all clients?”
“Then why, pray tell, is your mind so often preoccupied with this single cycle?” Margenta tapped a whirling display, bringing up an image of a teenaged Thomas Weaver. “Why this particular client?”
“Are my reports not up to snuff, ma’am? Am I falling behind?”
“No, you are meeting your quotas. You are feeding the machine.”
“Then, I can’t help but wonder why you are so interested in this singularly uninteresting life? Enlighten me.”
Emillion reached out, touched the image of Thomas Weaver’s worried face. “He is so human, ma’am.”
“By definition, all your clients are human. Is there an additional metric of which I am unaware?”
“He has qualities I admire.”
Margenta reached into the scrolling words and pulled a section close to her, tilted her head back to view them through the spectacles, then looked a wordless query at Emillion.
“Certain qualities cannot be quantified, don’t you agree, ma'am?”
“I do not. Everything can be quantified. That is why we are here.” Margenta continued on, pausing briefly at each desk, tapping a finger before moving on to the next.
After the disorienting breakfast and Easter gifts, the rest of Easter Sunday stretched before Thomas like an unexpected vacation from a lifeless existence. He was again fifteen. Zack was alive. All outcomes were still possible.
Armed with grease rags, wrenches, chamois, Armor All, and Windex, Zack spent the day babying his Camaro. Anne cleaned the house, did laundry, and made a few casseroles they could pop in the oven and eat during the week.
Thomas spent the afternoon on a long walk through the old neighborhood, reveling in its odd familiarity. In his mind, this place and time had begun to lose its color and fade into the sepia tone of memory. Here it was, though, in living color. He unconsciously reached into his jacket pocket for his iPhone to listen to his music, then remembered.
Going to be a few things I’m going to have to get used to.
The sun occasionally broke through the clouds, and the temperatures were in the low fifties—about as pleasant as March could be in western Oregon. As he wandered, he took stock of his new surroundings.
This part of town doesn’t look much different now than it will in 2015. Satellite dishes the size of an RV might come and go, but everything else looks pretty much the same.
Except for the kids.
Everywhere Thomas looked, there were kids—drawing with chalk on the sidewalk or driveway, throwing balls, riding bikes, roller skates, or skateboards.
This is what we did before video games.
He walked half a dozen blocks, past rows of small single-story houses, until he reached the edge of the business district. The Pickwick Theater's marquee was advertising
The Bad News Bears,
but the sign and lobby were dark.
No matinees on Easter Sunday in 1976, I guess.
He walked past the Shell station, advertising regular gas for $0.579 a gallon. Premium was a nickel more. Just past the gas station was a rundown little bar called
The Do Si Do.
The dilapidated marquee in front read: “One night only—The loudest bar band in the world—Jimmy Velvet and the Black Velvets.”
At the edge of the neighborhood, Sammy’s Corner Grocery brought a new rush of memories. The worn wooden floorboards, the hanging fluorescent lights, the odd mixed scent of stale packaging and fresh food, brought him up short by its long-forgotten familiarity.
He didn’t need to ask where anything was, because the layout was suddenly in his mind. His feet carried him to a spinning metal rack of comic books. At eye level, superhero comics, then, lower,
Betty and Veronica.
He leafed through issues of
Mighty Avengers, The Amazing Spiderman,
Marvel Team Up.
He reached into his pocket, but found only two dimes; not enough to buy a comic book even in 1976, but not completely useless. He wandered over to the small candy section and saw the familiar Hershey bars and Reese’s cups, but his eye fell on the bright red packaging of a Marathon candy bar.
Can’t remember the last time I had a Marathon. When did they stop making them?
He went to the front counter, and Sammy rang him up on an old-fashioned register with actual push keys. Thomas put the twenty cents on the counter. Sammy swept them off in one smooth motion, caught them in his other hand and tossed them in the tray. It was all very cool and retro, but it also left him broke.
Guess it doesn’t matter how cheap something is if you have no money.
He ate the Marathon on the way home, letting the chocolate and caramel stir long-buried memories back into reality. Thomas got home just before dark and sat down to a dinner of ham, au gratin potatoes, and salad.
Between the late breakfast, the Marathon, and this, it's more than I've eaten in a single day in years.
Most of my calories of late have been the liquid variety. Funny, I don’t feel the need for a beer, which is probably good. No idea how I’d get my hands on one—walk down and steal one from Sammy’s? Don’t think I could do that, either.
The conversation at the dinner table wasn’t much, but Thomas found it soothing and homey. Zack talked about track team politics, then Anne vented a bit about a horrible patient and an even more horrible doctor. At seven o’clock, they all sat down in the living room and watched
Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color
McMillan & Wife
NBC’s Sunday Night Mystery Movie.
The dialogue was a little stilted, and Thomas solved the mystery before the second commercial break, but the scenes playing out in the dark on the low-definition screen were secondary to the simple comfort of being there.
Although I keep wanting to pause the DVR, or fast-forward through commercials. Not only is there no DVR, there's no remote. If we want to change the channel to one of the three others, including the one that doesn't come in too well, someone has to get up and turn the dial. Me, naturally, as the youngest. In the meantime, we either make a trip to the bathroom during commercials, or learn what corporations want us to know about Anacin and Tide
When the Eleven O’clock News came on, Anne said, “Okay, boyos, bedtime. Off to bed with you.”
A bedtime. Haven't had one in decades. But it's fine; this day has worn me out, at least emotionally
. He kissed his mom goodnight, laid his head against her shoulder, held it there a moment, told her again that he loved her, and headed to bed.
Thomas took his clothes off and climbed into bed, but his mind wouldn't stop.
How long does it take to adjust to something like this?
How can it be 1976 if I remember everything that comes after it? Reagan will come up short in his run for the presidency this year, but beat Carter next time around. The shuttle’s going to explode. The Berlin Wall will fall. The Trade Center’s also going to fall. Isn’t it? Is that something that already happened, or is gonna happen, or what?
Everything here could disappear when I close my damn eyes. That’s how I got here in the first place, just closed my eyes and went to sleep, but I don’t want that to happen again. Life felt completely disposable until today. Now it’s precious again.
Even so, I can't stay awake forever. I saw how that turned out in the
Nightmare on Elm Street
. “Eventually, you gotta sleep, even if Freddy is coming to get you
A few minutes later, he lay on his back, staring up at the ceiling and wondering whether it had asbestos in it, when Zack padded into the room, undressed, and crawled into his bed.
Zack. He’s going to die in less than four months, and I’m going to be the one to kill him. Or am I? Now that I’m here again, can I change things? If I do, will it change everything going forward? How could it not? What will happen if I just don’t go to that kegger with him?
Zack said, “Hey, Squirt?”
“Aren’t you going to play one of your awful records?”
“You don’t care?”
“Nah. I’ve kinda gotten used to them. Don’t know if I can go to sleep without it.”
Thomas rolled over, pushed the lever on the stereo, and heard the same Mingus song that had played during his nervous breakdown that morning. He turned the volume knob until the music was barely audible.
“Turn it up a little, like it usually is.”
Like it usually is.
For Zack, for
Zack, there had been a Tommy in this same bed the night before, listening to the same Mingus record. In relative terms, that was about when Thomas had taken enough sleeping pills to kill himself three times over.
So where did that Tommy go? Is he still here? Am I him? Shit. I am never gonna figure this out. Maybe I’ll check some Isaac Asimov or Ray Bradbury out of the library, since I can’t just Google 'theories of time travel' any more. In fact, unless I wake up somewhere else, I guess I won’t be Googling anything for twenty-five years or so. No more PCs, smart phones, search engines or social media. But you can still smoke almost wherever you want, you don’t have to take your shoes off to get on a plane and gas is cheap
The whole world feels slower
Then it slipped out. “That’s a pretty good tradeoff for not being able to Google something.”
“What? What did you say? Goo-what? What the hell is that?”
“Sorry. Think I was already asleep and dreaming about something.”
A few moments passed in silence.
“’Night. See you in the morning.”
Thomas swam through layers of consciousness, sorting out a swirl of dreams from reality. He opened one eye. Red, white, and blue walls.
Yes! Still here!
He put his feet on the threadbare carpet and looked at the clock. 6:45. Zack’s bed was empty, sheets and blankets thrown back in a careless heap. Thomas made a quick pit stop in the bathroom, then wandered out to the kitchen.
Mom’s Chrysler is gone. Must be at work already.
Thomas laid his hand against the coffee pot.
He poured himself a cup and took a sip.