... To The Third Power

Submitted into Contest #154 in response to: Write a story featuring an element of time-travel or anachronism.... view prompt


Science Fiction Romance Fiction

James McCoy sat in the rain. His ability to care about getting wet had faded beneath the sorrow that bent his lips into a frown so deep and entrenched upon his face that it seemed impossible for a boy of thirteen to feel so deeply that it had aged him. At least it had today, under these clouds and in this storm.  

In one hand James held a crumpled and slightly dampened piece of paper. The wrinkles created by the folds nearly thinned the paper to the point of falling apart. He was so sure, so sure that his tender little heart could have just burst. He was so sure that he would have bet his life on it. The certainty that he would always and forever be with Jane was indelibly written into his mind, into his heart and into his soul. Janey Weiss had been a part of his life since second grade, they were something better than friends but less than boyfriend/girlfriend, and for the longest time that was enough. Janey, the apothegm of the term “Tom Boy”, began to loom large in James’ dreams. She would annoyingly prance through his thoughts at moments where it both helped and hurt him to function, either way those thoughts always caused a smile to slip across his face. James loves her, in every deep and sincere way that a thirteen year old boy can love, he did and not one soul could tell him otherwise. That is why the presence of the cursed paper artifact resting in his hand hurt even more intensely than had ever hurt another human being. Or at least James believed this to be so, are not all melancholy teenagers prone to such sinking serious despair throughout their schooling?

James reads this letter over and over, it had been a week since James had received his cursed parcel and for whatever masochistic reason he just kept torturing himself with it. He wanted to hurt more because deep down he believed that this was all his fault. His thoughts ran the gamut when it came to trying to figure out why she had wrote to him what she did:


I am writing to you because of what you had said to me yesterday. It took me a lot of thought with how to best respond to your declaration. James I don’t feel the same about you. For that I am sorry. I’ve known you for so long and I know that this will hurt and when the time comes that you want to talk again, I am here for you as a friend. That is how I love you J, as a friend. I’ll see you tomorrow at school.

Your Friend 


No one can see you cry in the rain, James had heard that somewhere in a song or poem, maybe an old TV show. It was this thought that allowed him to release his sorrow, while seated at a park bench in the diminishing rapidity of the rain fall that had provided him a convenient curtain for what he had shown few throughout his life, his sorrow. It just wasn’t the manly thing to do and that is how he had been raised, it’s just not OK to cry if you are a man. In this day and age, that was pretty old fashioned thinking but that is what happens when you are raised by your grandparents.  

James had just finished reading his letter again, he had folded it up and placed it in his front trouser pocket promising himself that he would not read it again (yet he could have thrown this away at any time in the last few days). In roughly fifteen minutes he would be pulling that piece of paper out, letting it’s words torture him just a little more. He sat silently thinking about how deeply he loved Janey and how, now, it would never be. James hadn’t been to school since the day he got Janey’s note. He had told his grandparents he was sick, and while they were gone to work during the day he would sneak out to the park where our scene is unfolding. He didn’t want to ever go back, he didn’t want to see her face, he didn’t want to listen to whispers about how he got shot down or how he was “friend-zoned”, whispers that were mostly imagined but a few real ones would slip through also. James is old beyond his years, he even gave the nature of his heartbreak some thought, how the formula for it was something you could cook up in a lab or possibly discover on the periodic table. To him, heartbreak was fifty percent sorrow, twenty percent hate, ten percent regret and twenty percent humiliation and embarrassment. He had been consuming this formula since getting Janey’s letter.

James got up from his park bench made from heavy iron and his attempt slid the bench back against the nearest tree. James had been moistened by the rain, he just had no desire to become drenched by it and the tree he had spotted offered ample protection for someone who want to stay out of the rain. “Here dude, let me give you a hand.” said the voice of a person standing just behind him. James turned to find a man who appeared to be in his twenties with long brown hair arranged into a pony tail that dangled halfway down his back, it reminded James of one of his grandfathers’ horses in that it did indeed look like a horse tail had grown from the back of this man’s head. He was slender, wearing a pair of bicycle shorts and a tank top. As far as James was concerned this was one of many random runners or cyclists that get pasted into the background of the park on a daily basis. James simply nodded ‘yes’ to the stranger. “Now you take one end, I’ll take one end and we can put this thing against the tree, I’m trying to wait out the rain too little man.” said the stranger. James hated being called “little man” ; it reminded him of an uncle he didn’t particularly care for. “Ain’t it a school day?, what’s a kid your age doing alone in the park this time of day?” asked the stranger. “I don’t talk to people I don’t know, now I ain’t going to be a rude mister and I appreciate you helping me move this bench but I ain't much for small talk right about now, so if you could just leave me be I’d appreciate it.”exclaimed James. This was about as rude as you would ever hear James’ being. If you ask about anyone James most often is described as “Yeah, James, quiet… great kid”. The stranger sat down next to James and looked down at his shoes with his arms folded. He shook his head affirmatively for a couple of minutes and then removed the two ear buds from his hippie-like cranium. “Look man I ain’t trying to pry…. I’m really not you just look like you lost your best friend, if you want to talk you can if not that’s fine too.” the stranger said. “I’ll go with the part that’s fine too.” James replied. (James is thirteen, being a smart ass is part of the job). The stranger breathed a heavy sigh, it’s worth noting that the stranger kept a faint smile on his face the entire time, he was in good spirits apparently. “Listen kid, if it’s a friend… little girlfriend trouble don’t let it rule your life. Friends come and go and so do girls. I have three different girls I date now, if I lose one it’s no big D. Another will take her place at some point and the void is filled. That little hole in your heart, it ain’t forever kid. What are you, like eleven, twelve maybe?” asked the stranger. “I’m thirteen and it’s all none of your business.” rudely exclaimed James. These words were actually sort of helping James though, his grand parents never took his life seriously, at least this guy is giving me some kind of hope although it’s kinda bent. “Chill little man, just know that tomorrow is another day and there really are plenty of fish in the sea, cliche… er I mean things you’ve heard over and over again….they value sometimes. That feeling in your heart right now, think of it like a callous on your hand, the more you try the tougher that callous gets and after while you barely feel any kind of hurt because you come to expect it. Have fun, don’t take any of this too seriously. The most important thing you can do right now is to keep trying with other girls, one of them is sure to be dumb enough to give you a shot.” said the stranger. “Heyyyyy.” James exclaimed and at that moment a watch alarm beeps. “Oh crap kid I gotta roll outta here, people to meet and babes to check out, good luck to you…. Smart ass.” said the stranger as he got up and began to jog away.

Strange guy, James thought, bit of a jerk but maybe he is right maybe I should just keep going. Maybe Janey isn’t the only person out there for me, maybe I don’t need to have a person at all, maybe I am thinking about this love thing all wrong. Of Course these thoughts did not last long in the front of James’ head since almost like a reflex he would remove the letter from his pocket, read it, re-entering the world of emotional agony he doesn’t seem to want to leave. James had never cried this much, his parents had died when he was an infant so he never had a personal connection to that loss the way older kids do. But this with Janey, it was the realest part of his life and it hurt so bad to know he had lost what he thought it was.

The sun ,when it peeked out from behind the clouds, told James that it was roughly one o’clock. Soon he would have to return home, crawl into bed and pretend to be sick again for his grandparents. In the not so far off distance an elderly man carrying an umbrella and a walking stick approached the bench where James sat. “Hey there feller, that other half of the bench taken?” asked the elderly stranger. James had always liked the word “Feller”, it’s kind of like the way country folks say fellow, the way people in Mark Twain books spoke, the old man’s demeanor and the way he carried himself just made James feel safe. “No sir, you an sit here if you like.” James said politely. As the elderly stranger sat adorned in his white button up shirt plaid pants and fedora (heinous I know), James noticed the faint smell of aftershave drifting away from the stranger that reminded him of his grand dads, but that was probably an old people thing. “You look awful long in the mouth there feller, I mean sad… you look sad.” fished the old man. “It’s nothing really, I’m starting to see that it’s nothing what I’m feeling that is.” James replied. “You sure about that, in my experience it takes more than nothing to make me cry, you’re crying now, big ole tears racing down them cheeks, it’s more than nothin’ feller.” said the elderly stranger. “I think the only girl I’ll ever love doesn’t love me back….. And it hurts.” James said. “And you say that it’s nothing important right?” asked the stranger. “Yeah, I mean I’m just thirteen I have all the time in the world and there are tons of fish out there right?” asked James. “There is a lot of different shirts to buy at the store but only one size really fits now don’t it?” the elderly stranger responded. “I mean think about it, you are half right you have time on your side, it’s what you chose to do with it that matters. You can play all you like, no one will ever pay you to play. You can eat all you want but no one will ever pay you to do so. In fact, the wrong use of time can really cost you. Does any of that make sense to you, feller?” replied the elderly stranger. James thought about the words trickling out of the old man’s mouth and they began to sink in, maybe he’s right, maybe I shouldn’t give up so easily, I mean I love this girl… LOVE HER. “Mr. you really have some smart things to say, a lot better than that last guy.” Said James. “You had another bench visitor?” asked the elderly stranger. “Yeah but I didn’t like him very much. He seemed like he was missing something and trying to hide what he was missing.” said James. You have a good eye on you kid, don’t lose that.”said the stranger. At that very moment another watch alarm goes off this time belonging to our elderly stranger. “Oh my I am going to be late for my doctor's appointment if I don’t hurry. Good talking to you kid and keep that chin up. I know that you will see this face again soon I’ll be around.” Said the elderly stranger as he walked away.  

James got himself up and walked back to his grandparents home. Resolute with the notion that he would not be giving up. The first thing he did was toss away his paper chain and let go of the despair. Tonight he would write a letter that would change his life forever, one that almost didn’t get written.

Epilogue 1:

Fifty years from now. A familiar elderly gentleman, dressed heinously, approaches the front door of a brick home, modest but nice. He pauses as he places his key to the lock, a mild body wide sweat washes over him, his heart races and before the key can go any further into the lock, the door opens wide from the other side. “What in the hell are you wearing?” uttered the elderly femnine voice that met his ear. In the instant her voice became audible in the air between them, in that instant a flood of new memories wove together with his own present ones. It worked, it worked!!! Oh to see this old man’s movements in that moment, a savage, desperate, starving heart reaching out to desperately embrace this coveted love he had not known until just now. He and Janey were now together and had been, since college… apparently. As with any temporal walk, the new memories don’t cement until a day or two later. What was important to James in this moment is Janey. She is all to him… all. You see Janey now bares the burden of packing a letter with her, it’s the only burden she can remember that lifted her soul right off the ground and gave her words to fall in love with. The elderly stranger stood with his bride in that door holding her kissing her thanking god that this could even happen.

Epilogue 2:

Twenty years from now, in the attic of the McCoy farm house, an echoing beep can be heard just prior to an implosion of dust and water vapor and the sudden violent appearance of a thirty one year old pony tailed schmuck stranger, who in all honesty hadn’t had a date in seven years or so (it’s true). Temporal walking can leave you feeling sick upon return especially if you did something wrong, or if someone else did something right. James began walking downstairs to get himself something to drink. As he crept down the stairs he could hear what could only be described as hurricane level wind outside his family's home. James had become the kind of young man that would and did pour the drink first. There was a shrieking sound coming from outside the door and a whisper in his head he couldn’t make out. James stepped out onto the porch and just beyond the steps to the sidewalk there was nothing but white void, the sound was not wind it’s just what void sounds like when you are around to hear it. Haunting and ghostly, the whispering in James' ear became louder and louder and the voice divided and multiplied until it was a chorus of spectral noise in his head.

James fell to his knees, hands over his ears barely able to hold his eyes open he looks around himself and notices that the remainder of his home was crumbling into void he had found himself in. The whispering voices began to unify and quieten as James himself began to crumble out of reality, the last thing he heard was a soft voice whispering “oblivion” in his mind.

Epilogue 3:

In present time, James sat down that night pencil in hand, his heart firmly in his head. The texture of the paper to his fingertips was exquisite and every word that fell from him, came from the soul. He knew in his heart this would change his life, knew it. He wrote with his heart from his soul and in so doing created one of the most sublime works ever to grace eye and captivate the mind.

Dear Janey,


(Your author does not kiss and tell)

July 13, 2022 05:52

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