Iva Kline knew she wasn’t supposed to use her father’s time machine, but like most teenage girls, she went against his will. She would pay for it later, she knew, as she fiddled with the controls of the aluminum box. But the lure of adventure just around the corner was irresistible, and so she decided to go.
The metal was cold against her delicate fingers, and she couldn’t help but allow her lips to curve into a mysterious grin. Her father doubted her academic abilities, never believed she would be capable of working the machine. Of course, the multicoloured wires tangled around the box. Each switch had no image to accompany it, nothing to signify its use. Any instruction manual was buried in his locked desk. Iva had to rely on months of dedicated memorization.
It made it all the more satisfying when she closed the door on herself. The tight space didn’t bother her, claustrophobia wasn’t her style. Iva was fearless, or so she liked to tell herself. So fearless and brave that she would travel through time to a new world.
She could hear her shallow breathing, the murmur of her counting down. 10, 9, 8, she whispered. 7...5…3. With a sharp inhale, the timer went off and the box began to violently vibrate.
I’m travelling through time, Iva thought through gritted teeth. She didn’t admit, not even to herself, that as the box powerfully shook, she became nervous. What if? Iva couldn’t help but ask herself. What if this goes wrong?
The box gave one last strong judder before it stilled, and Iva exhaled a breath of relief, followed by a burst of excitement. She made it, into the future, where nobody had yet to step foot. Not even her father had travelled exactly 54 years, opting instead to travel in decades. Iva only cared about seeing herself, a 70-year-old.
The door hissed open, but no steam hissed from the edges like one would see in a science fiction movie. And Iva wasn’t immediately overwhelmed with unseen technology like flying cars and holograms. It took a few moments of adjustment before Iva recognized signs that the room she stepped into was different from her father’s test room.
It was still a scientific lab, but it was the same as her father’s in many ways. The wood table that Iva set her drink on was cracked and old, the paint peeling, but her initials were still engraved on the inside of the left drawer. The only difference between the lab she had come from and the one she explored was age, and clutter that lined the desks.
What the hell? Why hadn’t her father’s office changed? She knew she would arrive wherever the future time machine existed - she could transport herself, not the box - but she figured her father’s invention would have taken off. At least it would be moved to a location where it was easily accessible for transport.
Something had happened to the project. Dust lined the box, it had obviously not taken the same shaking as the one Iva used. It also meant it hadn’t been used in quite some time. Why? Wouldn’t people in the future have honed the technology, or improved it at least? The box seemed to be unchanged, which made her ride back simple. No need to resort to reading instructions. But it confused her, there was a reason everything was the very same.
The excitement Iva had been feeling just moments before was extinguished like a candle in the wind. Replaced by a nervousness she felt in her gut, she swallowed hard before walking through the door and into the rest of the house.
Immediately Iva wrinkled her nose in disgust, she did not like what had been done with the kitchen. Perhaps it was the style, but the cupboard’s clean white glean made the kitchen seem blank and flavourless. Paired with smooth black countertops, it seemed devoid of all emotion.
It seemed the same throughout the renovated house, not one picture hung on the wall. Not one plant grew in the corners. Not one bit of creativity, colour, or expression. It seemed to be a stranger’s house, and yet it was familiar. Not in a tangible way, not in a way she could remember. More on a deeper, gut level.
This was her house.
Why would 70-year-old Iva live in a place seemingly empty of all emotion? Iva knew she was flamboyant, colourful, creative, more so than anyone else she knew. She was an artist, a painter, and yet she was so sure she lived in that house. What she didn’t know was why.
Traipsing through her future house was not exactly what Iva had in mind for her adventure to the future. But she felt compelled to learn what had turned her hard as a stone, what drained her of life.
Older Iva seemed to use an old-style cell phone, which made it easy to explore the way she lived. Who she texted, why she was so… not like herself. It wasn’t snooping, Young Iva told herself, if it was her phone. She was never one to follow moral rules anyway, she did what she wanted when she wanted.
“Let me save you the hassle.” A voice came from behind her, one dry and cracked from age. Turning, Iva saw her older self. Initially, she was stiff with the instant panic of being caught, her instinct to freeze was a curse. She broke out of her stupor quick enough, but was not polite enough to refrain from gaping at Older Iva.
“I’ve been waiting for you.” Iva forced herself to close her mouth and speak coherently. Wrinkles lined her face, her skin sagging and discoloured. She seemed so different… yet it was unmistakably Iva.
Iva narrowed her eyes at Older Iva. “You knew I was coming?”
Older Iva nodded, and slowly moved toward the stiff couch. When she eventually sat down, she grunted with the effort of lowering herself. It was obvious she needed a cane but was too stubborn to use one. Iva smirked, there was no doubt they were alike. “Sit down.” Older Iva patted the seat beside her.
Iva was awkward, moving around the couch and sitting next to Older Iva. “Why-”
“Before we start, I feel the need to tell you something. I am not your future.”
“What do you mean I’m not-”
“Your future changed since you learned things on your travels. Hopefully, you’ll do something different and change your future. But instead of this world-changing, your future has split off into a different direction.”
Iva figured Older Iva’s blatant interruption would continue throughout their conversation, but her taught respect was not enough to prevent her harsh tone.
“Listen, I know you’re me and all but-”
“Are you listening to anything I am saying? I am not you!” It seemed Older Iva was getting irritated with Iva as well. She couldn’t see why, she wasn’t doing anything wrong.
“I’m listening, my future is split into a different direction since I got here. And you are my future before the split I assume, so since it isn’t the same anymore you’re not my future. I’m not stupid.” Iva’s voice was laced with contempt. “Why does everyone think I am.”
“Because you don’t listen you jug!”
“Is that supposed to be some offensive term? Listen, I came here for an adventure, not to argue with a grandmother version of me.”
“I may not be your future, but I still know who you are-”
“You mean how we are.” Iva interrupted. Of course, she was petty enough to mimic Older Iva’s rude actions.
“I’ve changed. You are still an ignorant teenager.”
“I am not ignorant!” Iva hissed as she stood.
“You went behind your father’s back to go on a trip to the future. Recklessly. You could have been injured, but you didn’t care. Why?”
“Because I’m not afraid of time travel.”
“Bull. You’re terrified.” Older Iva pointed a shaky finger at Iva. “You’re just not ready to admit it yet. You still live in a fantasy where you are invincible. Well, long 54-year story short, you’re not.”
“You’re hiding from something.” Iva scoffed, running her hand along the empty white wall. “Why else would you bleach the colour out of your home.”
“My past, and your future.”
“I thought you said you weren’t my future.”
“Your future will be similar unless you change something about the way you act.” Older Iva sighed loudly, waving her hand in the air as she thought about something Iva didn’t understand. But she knew one thing, she had to change her future to avoid whatever horrible thing happened to make her life bleak.
“Just help me avoid whatever goes wrong then. I’ll skip a day of work and head to the country for a day or something.”
“It’s not that simple. One event happened for me, but by avoiding one thing, it is likely another one will just pop up.”
“You make this so complicated.” Iva rolled her eyes and rubbed her sock on the floor. The air conditioner in her future house worked well.
Older Iva tsked, and shook her head. “I was once you. And I waited for 54 years to meet my younger self. And now I understand.”
“Excuse me?” Iva didn’t fully grasp what Older Iva was trying to say but managed to recognize it as a vague insult. “You still have yet to tell me what you did that was so wrong.”
Older Iva’s eyes grew stormy and dark, unlike anything Iva had ever seen before. Her face twisted into a scornful expression, and she turned to face the wall. “You want to know the details. Of course you do. And you’ll push people until they break just to get what you want.”
Iva stepped back, watching as Older Iva descended into a stupor. Standing shakily, she kept talking, her tone getting increasingly angry as she spoke.
“You want to know what happened? Oh, I’ll tell you. By the time I was eighteen, I felt like I was on top of the world. Ignoring my parents, doing drugs, it was all scary and fun. But I had no fear, I said, and kept doing whatever I was goaded into. It led me to some very dark places.”
Iva stepped back. “You’re lying.” She spat. “I would never do drugs.”
“Oh there's no use in arguing it sweetheart, we both know you’ve thought about it before. You can’t lie to yourself.” Older Iva laughed, a gurgling sound that came from deep in her throat. “I cut off my family to adventure in Greece and pursue art. And la-di-da I had the time of my life until I was twenty and broke in a foreign land. Mysha married the man of her dreams and didn’t invite me, she was always the one destined for greatness.”
Iva pursed her lips tightly, the thought of Mysha not inviting her seemed plausible, if Iva was across the world. Still, the mere thought of being cut off from her sister made her cringe.
“One by one I managed to sever ties with those who cared about me. Never staying with a man for more than a month, travelling. Of course, I couldn’t pay for those things. So I had the brilliant idea to steal!”
Iva’s mouth was open in shock.
“I went to jail. For forty years.” That was what did it, Iva leaned against the wall for support as she struggled to process what her future was.
“No.” The word was soft, not even loud enough for Older Iva to hear.
“I’ve done all I can for you spiteful brat. Learn some manners, and take my advice. Listen to your parents. They know what they’re doing, and you, obviously, do not.”
“But they don’t understand me! They want to hold me down.” Iva whined, before realizing she sounded like a seven-year-old child.
Older Iva scoffed and ran a hand through her brittle hair. “They are your anchor, saving you from being lost at sea. Do what I didn’t, trust their judgment.”
“What if I don’t want to change.” Iva looked down. It was a pointless question, of course she would have to change. She couldn’t live like that broken old woman.
Older Iva just shrugged. “Do what you want, I know your will is strong. But it is time to go back, I haven’t enough food for us both.”
Iva wanted to stay, to protest, and to fight Older Iva’s authority. Maybe five minutes prior she would have. But it was clear the woman was tired and fighting her own battles. Iva had to fight her own, fight for a better life.
“Thank you.” It was the nicest thing Iva had said in months, opting to ignore her family instead. But the words came easy, and Older Iva deserved it. She may have saved Iva’s entire future.
Older Iva just shrugged, slowly making her way to the lab.
“You will do better, I believe in you Iva.” Her words were encouraging, and Iva flipped the switches that turned on the time traveller.
“I have one more question,” Iva said. “Why are you living here? And why hasn’t father’s study changed?”
“He didn’t have enough money to fund the project after I left for Greece and asked for his support. And I live here because after he died he left me this house in his will.”
Iva thanked her again and stepped into the aluminum box. The doors closed smoothly, and Iva felt her heart beating quickly in her chest. She was afraid, and she was no longer scared to admit it.
She didn’t bother counting down the timer, the shaking as violent as she remembered. By the time it clanged to a stop, Iva knew with absolute certainty. Her life was about to change.
But first, she had to deal with her fuming father.