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Fantasy Fiction Science Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of suicide or self harm.

Elliot sat down on the school bench and took out a newspaper.

“Hey, nerd,” a girl’s voice called. “Who even reads those things anymore?”

“Oh dearest Elizabeth. Many still enjoy the weekly paper even if we live in a society where those numbers are in sharp decline.”

“So are you gonna tell me why you’re reading the paper today?”

“Oh you know me.  I can never keep away from a good headline.” 

“Cut the crap Eli!”

“Well, since you’re dying to know,” Elliot started with a smile as he pointed to a small ad on the back of the newspaper clutched in his hand. “Gardiner Labs is looking for some interns.”

“Seems like a perfect fit for you!”

Elliot grinned like an idiot. “Yeah, I’m gonna apply after school. I even picked up an extra form so you can apply too.”

Elizabeth turned away. “I wanna break up.”

“What?”

She hesitated. “When you were away last summer, Danny and I... kind of... became a thing.”

Elliot dropped the newspaper. “You and Danny.”

She started playing with her hair, like she always did when she was nervous. “I’m sorry. I’m just so sorry, Eli. It was never meant to work out this way.”

The bell rang, sealing their breakup.

“Come on,” she said finally. “We’re gonna be late for Chem.”

Mr. Wetherbee handed back papers from the first week of school. As Elliot received his paper, an ‘F’ stared at him. Mr. Wetherbee kneeled close to Elliot, saying, “See me after class.”

As soon as the last student exited the room, Mr. Wetherbee motioned for Elliot to approach his desk.

“Eli, this was supposed to be an easy assignment. All you had to do was talk about the positive and negative aspects of progress in the field of science. Your paper failed to even once mention any sort of criticism for the field.”

“There was nothing to be said.”

“For every argument, there exists a counterargument. For example,” he inquired, “What about all the lives that were sacrificed for an experiment?”

“As long as there’s progress, who cares about the one or two people who get hurt in the process?”

“Nothing is all good or bad.”

“How about my girlfriend cheating on me after I spent the summer away caring for my now dead brother? How did anything good come from that?”

“That is unfortunate, Eli. However, you need to redo your assignment.”

Elliot snatched the paper and ripped it in half. “Not a chance.”

“If you keep this up, you won’t pass.”

“I don’t care about passing your class.”

“I mean in life,” his voice hardened. “Just focus on keeping your grades up.”

On the walk home, he kept hearing Wetherbee’s voice. He won’t pass...in life? Absurd. “I’m not wrong,” Elliot repeated with every step until he could no longer hear Wetherbee’s ideals drown his own.

“Gardiner Labs, here I come.”

A week later, Elliot walked over to his mailbox. He noticed a letter from Gardiner Labs. Taking the mail inside, Elliot tore open the letter and scanned it. He got in. Elliot looked around the room, hoping to have someone, anyone, to share this moment with. He sighed deeply and looked once more at the letter. It said he was starting this afternoon.

The bus dropped him off a block away from the laboratory. Walking along, he noticed the sidewalk was cracked. It reminded him of a tree. There was the main crack going straight, but there were several little cracks branching off. He continued along his path until he found himself staring at Gardiner Labs.

Walking into the lab, Elliot was surprised by how messy it was. Papers and beakers scattered everywhere. He approached the only other person in the room. The man was leaning over a desk with a nametag: Gardiner. The older man looked up and said, “You must be Elliot, correct?”

“You can call me Eli, Professor.”

“Call me Gardiner.” Gardiner stroked his chin, which was cleanly shaven. He was not like what Eli imagined. Gardiner looked sharp. He had these dark brown eyes that almost looked completely black. They looked soulless, like a void. “I have currently designed an experiment and would like for you to test it.”

“What kind of experiment?”

Gardiner motioned for him to come over and sit down at the desk in front of him. “I have created a device that enables a user to go back to a previous event that happened in their lives and change it.”

Elliot raised an eyebrow. “Time travel?”

“Sort of.” Gardiner took a coin out of his pocket. “This is the device.”

“Sir, that’s a nickel.”

“Disguised as a nickel! I know, brilliant! To use this, you have to think of a time you want to go back to. When you toss the coin, it determines your fate. Heads: you change the future the way you want it to.”

“And tails?”

Gardiner looked at him with steely eyes. “The future changes in an unexpected way, almost always bad.”

Elliot jumped out of his seat. “What?! Why would you make it possible to have a bad future?”

Gardiner waited for Elliot to stir down. “The future needs to be balanced with good and bad deeds. Having the ability to both have positive and negative events allows each branch to ultimately reconnect to the original path.”

Elliot looked at the coin closely. “This is all a little hard to believe.”

Gardiner looked at him closely. “But you do believe in this.”

Elliot scoffed. “If what you’re saying is real, this could ruin somebody’s life, multiple lives even.”

“But science is all about progress, isn’t it? You could become a part of history.”

These words rang in Elliot’s mind. Who cares about the one or two people who get hurt along the way. Elliot thought back to Wetherbee’s essay, his outburst. It is not the same when it’s you.

Gardiner pushed even more. “Haven’t you ever wished you could go back and change a simple thing in your life?”

Elliot thought about his brother and Elizabeth. His life has been one disaster after another. He looked at Gardiner with eyes of sheer determination. “Okay, I’ll do it.”

Gardiner smiled wickedly as he handed over the coin. “Okay, then. “ He took out a pocket sized notebook and a pen. “Write everything.”

Elliot nodded solemnly. What would he change first? 

Grasping the coin, Elliot suddenly felt as though a heavy weight was being put on him. He flipped the coin. Thoughts of Elizabeth raced through his mind. He thought back to when he told her he had to leave for the summer. He closed his eyes and caught the coin. Heads.

Opening his eyes, he was back at his house, staring at Elizabeth.

“I can’t believe you have to go,” she said, hanging her head down.

Elliot looked around. Is this really happening? Does this prove the existence of time travel? Elliot blankly stared around. No way.

Elizabeth lifted her head. “Eli, are you okay?” 

“Huh?”

“Are you even listening?”

“Quick, what’s today’s date?” 

“Why?”

“Just-I need to see-ugh, uh I don’t know what! Just tell me the date please!”

“Okay, okay! Relax! It’s June 27th.”

No way. Elliot just blinked. He just time traveled. Elliot did not even know how to process this information. He looked at Elizabeth who was now staring at him worriedly. It was hard to believe a couple that in a couple of months she would have cheated on him? What would he have to change?

“Why don’t you come with me?” An idea sparked in Elliot’s head. If she is always there with him, she will not cheat on him, Elliot reasoned. 

“I don’t know, maybe…I don’t wanna get in the way.”

“You won’t. There’s nothing to worry about, as long as we’re together, right?”

Elizabeth grinned as she walked back home. “Of course!”

Once she was out of sight, Elliot took the coin out of his pocket and examined it. A thought crossed his mind. How was he supposed to get back? He looked at the coin, closed his eyes and flipped. Gardiner’s lab. November 12th.

He opened his eyes to find himself in Gardiner Labs. 

“Eli, my boy!” Gardiner called.

“Am I in the right time?” Elliot asked hazely.

“November 12th, boy.”

“Good.” Elliot sank down into a chair. He felt absolutely drained.

Gardiner looked at him. “It’s easy to travel back in time, not so easy to travel forward.”

Elliot tossed his journal over. “How am I supposed to know if any of this worked?”

Gardiner stroked his chin. “If everything worked properly, the future would have changed the way you wanted it to.”

As he was walking out of the lab, his eye was once again caught by the crack in the sidewalk. However, his eye was caught by the much smaller cracks. They deviated from the main one. But it was not just that. Each of the smaller cracks had several smaller ones forming within them. 

He took out his phone. He looked at the messages from Elizabeth. There was one from her this morning wishing him luck on his first day with a bunch of smiley faces and hearts. So it did work. Elliot walked home feeling uneasy. Something about this did not feel right. He took caution when walking home to not trip over the cracks in the sidewalk.

“Time for your next journey!” Gardiner said the next day. 

Elliot frowned a little. “Yeah, I’m not so sure I’m cut out for this.” He started laughing weakly, but Gardiner was not amused.

Gardiner slowly turned his head toward him, much like an owl would. The two black holes on his face stared deeply into Elliot’s own eyes. “What?”

Elliot took a step back from Gardiner. “I just think that if I keep doing this, I’ll run into those consequences you talked about.”

“Eli, my boy! You are experiencing first-hand what no other human has experienced before! You have the opportunity to change your fate! To create the perfect life.

Gardiner let those words ring in Elliot’s ear.

A perfect life? Elliot actually stopped for a moment. Gardiner just cared for results. But, a perfect life? A life where he was not alone? It seems within reach.

“Fine, I’ll do it.”

A wicked smile began to trace across Gardiner’s lips. “Okay, your choice,” he said, tossing Elliot his pocket journal. Elliot took out his time traveling nickel and rolled it across his fingers, feeling the weight of it. The coin felt a bit heavier as Elliot took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and flipped the coin. Tails.

Elliot opened his eyes, facing a calendar. April 7th. Wait, that date seems familiar. Elliot’s eyes widened as he realized: that was the date his brother tried to jump off the bridge at 8 pm. It was 7:40. Elliot ran as fast as he could to Clifton Bridge.

And there, he saw his brother leap one second too soon. “Adrian!” Elliot tried to scream but found himself voiceless. In a panic, he took the coin out and tossed it. Tails. 

He ran into Adrian’s room to find Adrian sleeping. Elliot shook him awake.

“Hey! What’s your problem?” Adrian grumbled.

“Don’t leave.”

This got Adrian’s attention.

With no more words being left spoken, Elliot gave Adrian one final look: the look of a younger brother who needed his sibling. Elliot, upon walking out, closed his eyes, and tossed the coin.

He opened his eyes in front of Gardiner, who was staring at him intently. “Did it work?” Gardiner asked.

“I hope so.”

Elliot decided to take the bus to the local cemetery. He went to the spot where he spent most of his summer and that was where he saw it. 

Adrian Carpenter, 1991 - 2017. A beloved son.

Elliot slammed his fist on the tombstone and started quaking. Tears slowly streamed down his face as he faced the silence.

Elliot ran home in confusion and was greeted by his mother holding a baby.

“Mom?”

“Hi, Elliot, can you take Jane for a bit? Roger and I are going out for dinner, but we’ll be back in a little bit. Take care of your baby sister!” She quickly thrusted Jane into Elliot’s hands and went out the door. He stared in shock. He had a sister? And who’s Roger? Why couldn’t he save Adrian? Elliot started shaking and quickly stopped, noticing Jane starting to squeal. He quickly found the room with Jane’s things in them and put her in the crib. “This was Adrian’s room,” Elliot muttered. 

Elliot took out his coin and rolled it across his fingers as he walked down the hall, gazing at the wall of family photos. He looked at his smiling mother, little Jane, and a blonde man who looked like Jane: must be Roger, Elliot reasoned. And then he looked at himself. Smiling. Like actually smiling. “I seem happy,” Elliot snickered slightly. But he had no memory of this life. He took the coin, closed his eyes, and flipped.

And nothing. Elliot opened his eyes as he found himself foolishly staring at the family photos again. Strange.

He flipped the coin again. Nothing. Each time the coin got heavier and heavier. He did this five to six more times before the coin felt too heavy to flip. Elliot was freaking out now. He ran out of the house, but stopped, realizing that Jane was left alone. He decided he would pursue Gardiner in the morning, he thought bitterly.

He heard every clock tick, the time passing by. What if he was stuck here? No, no. Don’t think like that. Gardiner will fix everything. The clock kept ticking.

After what seemed an eternity, the morning had finally come. Elliot quickly got ready and was about to run out the door, until a blonde man stopped him: Roger.

“Wear a coat, bud. It’s freezing outside.” 

“Thanks, Dad,” Elliot said, not thinking.

“Dad?” Roger repeated.

“Um, sorry, Roger. I-”

“You’ve never called me Dad before,” Roger smiled.

Elliot smiled at him absentmindedly for a couple of seconds and then ran out the door.

Gardiner was carefully working with a Bunsen Burner, heating up some liquid in a tube.

Elliot rushed through the door. “Gardiner!” he shouted with a mix of fear and rage, startling Gardiner, who dropped the beaker.

“How many times have I told you not to do that, Jason!” he growled.

“No, it’s me. Eli, your intern.”

Gardiner looked up sharply at Elliot. “I can’t say we’ve ever met, boy.”

“I’m from another timeline,” Elliot blurted out, as he took out the coin and showed it to Gardiner.

“How fascinating!” Gardiner took out a similar coin from his pocket, but one that seemed less refined, like a prototype of some sorts.

Elliot grabbed a seat and told Gardiner about his timeline.

“I need to go back to my timeline.” 

“Have you recorded all your travels?”

Elliot pulled out the tiny journal in his coat pocket. Gardiner scanned through the pages quickly.

“Oh, this is bad, Elliot.”

“What?”

“You went back to the same day twice.”

To save Adrian, Elliot thought solemnly. “What’s the problem?”

“Time is a very delicate thing, my boy. When you went back to the same time twice, you took two separate actions and those two timelines completely separated from one another. One must be connected to the original timeline, and the one you’re in now, is completely severed from the original timeline.”

Elliot’s throat suddenly went very dry. “I can’t go back home?”

Gardiner shook his head. “Look on the bright side, you proved time travel exists, and with your notes, the rest of the world will know, too.”

“You ruined my life.”

Gardiner’s eyes glistened. “Science is about progress. Now, boy, hand me the journal.”

Elliot wouldn’t let go of the journal. Elliot pushed Gardiner who knocked the still lit Bunsen Burner over on top of the journal. They dropped the journal on top of the table, where all of Gardiner’s research papers were. Within seconds, Elliot was staring at a wall of flames. He ran out of the lab as the building burst into flames. “Gardiner, get out!” Elliot screamed, as he saw Gardiner fall to his knees.

Elliot tried to run back inside and help him, but he blacked out.

When Elliot woke up, he saw his mother stroking his face.

“What happened Mom?” Elliot muttered in a daze.

She frowned. “Gardiner Labs caught on fire, and you were there apparently. I was so worried.” She wrapped Elliot in a tight hug. He hadn’t gotten a hug from his mother in several years, he thought. It was nice.

Elliot jolted up. “Is Gardiner okay?” 

His mother pursed her lips. “He was hurt pretty badly.”

Elliot sighed very deeply, but it was not of relief. He realized he was stuck in this weird branch of the timeline. Forever. And Gardiner Labs, his one connection to his old timeline, was gone. He then looked at his mother who was smiling at him, with tears running down her face. He has a different version of his mother, but it was still his mother.

Sixty years have passed. Elliot struggled to get out of his bed and grab his cane.. He went to a nearby park, which was once Gardiner’s lab and sat down at a bench in front of a waterfall. He gazed at the coins lying at the bottom. Children’s wishes. Elliot reached in his pocket and grabbed a coin shaped like a nickel, but it was not a nickel. It was much heavier than any coin. Elliot smiled bitterly at it. Tears formed around his eyes and traced the deep set wrinkles around his eyes. He glanced down at the sidewalk, which years ago was cracked, now had been repaved. He smiled. One final time, he took the coin, closed his eyes and tossed it into the waterfall. And for once, he welcomed the silence. 

August 30, 2022 22:02

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