A Time Travel Trap Door Opens by Keypad Strokes

Submitted into Contest #184 in response to: Write a story about a character who is experiencing glitches in their reality.... view prompt

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Mystery Science Fiction Fiction

Jakob Anderson read the message on the screen and sighed.

“Unusual activity has been detected on your account. For security reasons, your account has been locked. Please return to the login page and re-enter your password.”

“Sonofabitch! I don’t know what the hell my password is!”

Rooting through his desk, Jakob shuffled through a stack of sticky notes littered with recorded passwords searching for the key to unlocking his virtual world. Nada.

“Of course not,” he muttered aloud, “Why would I have the password for that site? That would be too easy. Unusual activity, my ass. It’s the Chinese or Russians waiting for me to create a new password and jump through the hoops of verification, and when I do, they’ll be copying everything off my hard drive. Sonsofbithches.”

Next, he checked the Notes and Password Keeper apps on his phone. Again, nothing useful. He hung his head, knowing he would have to suffer through wasting ten minutes to do something for no good reason.

Eight characters, including at least one capital letter, symbol, and number. Set to require a password reset every 72 days automatically.

Taking a fresh block of sticky notes from the side of his desk, Jakob began doubly recording the information because if he didn’t, he knew he’d forget the password two minutes later.

#GivmeaBrea%333

Redirected to the verification page, Jakob logged in again, and once more, all was right in the world.

Or so he thought.

****

“Elsie,” Jakob knocked, then called through the closed door to his daughter’s bedroom, “It’s time to get ready. We’re leaving in fifteen.”

The door opened a crack, and Elsie, Jakob’s mid-teen daughter, put her face to the gap.

“Get ready for what? Where are we going?” she asked.

“Hockey, Elsie. Remember, Monday nights are set practices? Get your stuff ready.”

Elsie gave her father a concerned, quizzical look.

“What?” her father said, looking back at her. “What’s that face for? Let’s go.”

“Dad? Is this one of those dad jokes I don’t get?”

“No. It’s Monday night, hockey night. What’s wrong with you?”

Elsie opened the door wider and regarded her father with concern. “Are you okay, dad?”

“Of course. I’m perfectly fine. What’s this game about?”

“Dad…. it’s Thursday, and it’s August. Hockey doesn’t even start for three weeks.”

Peering at his daughter, Jakob was about to cut her practical joke short when a flutter outside her window caught his attention. There, on the top branches of the crabapple tree, sat the suave-looking Bluejay, a daily visitor Jakob’s children had named Harry Styles for his bold colors and flamboyant posture.

The tree was full of green leaves and rust-colored fruit; across the street, Jakob saw the green grass of his neighbor’s lawns.

An unsettling feeling rattled down his bones.

He stepped into Elsie’s room and went to her computer. Taking hold of the mouse, Jakob swiped the small white arrow to the bottom corner of the screen.

“Dad, I wasn’t doing anything inappropriate — I was just talking with Violet while playing Mystery Mansion.”

As Jakob held the tracking arrow over the clock icon, he stopped listening to his daughter’s words.; the date corroborated his daughter’s declaration. It was August 17.

When he sat down at his desk this morning, it was October 25th.

Jakob turned, walked out of Elsie’s room without a word, returned to his office, sat at the desk, and slumped slightly to the side.

“Mom! Mom!” Elsie yelled downstairs, “You better come up here! I think something is wrong with Dad!”

****

They’d gone over it several times, and Jakob was as uncomfortable by his wife’s stare as he was by the apparent facts. Jakob had either jumped back in time by a few months or imagined himself in the future.

After taking quick tests to assure his wife, Jessica, that he hadn’t suffered a stroke, Jakob sat in his recliner, carefully going through what he knew to be true.

His conundrum was how to prove he’d already lived the days ahead.

How could he prove that he knew which teacher would be Elsie’s homeroom instructor? How could he prove he knew who her teammates and coach would be? How could he know how many games she’d scored in, games they’d won and lost, and injuries teammates would suffer? What arguments she would have with her mother, and what conversations they would have?

All of these could only be verified once they happened, and even when they did, it still wouldn’t be verifiable proof that they’d already lived those moments.

He needed something concrete. To be someplace as something happened, and knowing the details, interrupt it.

And he had no idea how to do it.

There was no information in hand about events of the future. No documentation, news reports, articles, pictures, or videos. There was nothing tangible Jakob could place in front of his family to say, “look, this happened!”

Jakob had never considered that a time leap backward could be so useless and impossible to prove. This wasn’t like those movies; nothing happened in the past two and a half months, or in the coming two and a half months, that was catastrophic or tragic. It was simply the routine of life happening one day at a time. Even if he could convince his family to believe him, they would chalk it up to some psychic episode, not time travel.

“Think Jakob! You have to think!” he scolded himself.

Pacing around the house, Jakob drank cup after cup of coffee, scribbling down random ideas and plans, each turning out to be as futile as the one before. But, while the solution seemed determined to stay hidden, he was confident of what had occurred. Jakob knew this morning was October, and now he was back in August.

And still, there was no way he could prove it to be true.

Seated in his recliner, the mental fatigue of the situation began to wane his stamina. As his eyes grew heavy and his head swam with thoughts, a new realization began to form.

Perhaps, he did have a stroke. On the other hand, maybe none of this was real at all. He could be in the hospital, in a coma after a traumatic episode. This could all be a mental trick, a hallucination, a way for his brain to occupy itself while it waited to heal. He’d read enough interesting stories about people having out-of-body experiences and being immersed in extremely lucid dreams.

Or perhaps he was asleep right now, lost in the depths of a dream, soon to awaken to a correct date and time, whatever that might be.

Feeling as though a lead blanket covered him, Jakob gave in to the weight on his body and the taxing of his mind. His eyes closed, and he slept.

****

“Jakob? Sweetheart, are you feeling any better?”

It was Jessica, her voice soft and gentle, her lovely hand gently rubbing his shoulder. Opening his eyes, Jakob smiled at his wife and nodded. “Much better,” he answered. “I must have been overtired, is all.”

Jessica smiled back, “Well, come have some dinner. You were sleeping so deeply that I didn’t want to wake you, but I think you should eat. You’ll feel better.” She kissed the top of his head and, as her habit, lightly scratched the back of his neck with her fingertips. “I made French Onion soup for you. Nice and rich, the way you like it. Come get some, sweetie.”

Watching her walk to the kitchen, Jakob couldn’t help but smile. Jessica was forty-six, but no one would believe she was a day over thirty-five. It continued to captivate him how the slender woman could have so many marvelous curves. She was stunning when they’d met in their twenties, and with two decades gone by, she’d remained as beautiful as the first time he’d laid eyes on her.

“Just what the doctor ordered,” he said, then rose from the chair and went to the dining room.

After his late dinner, Elsie came down to say goodnight and check on her father in her usual joking fashion when approaching anything serious. Everything seemed to be fine, with all of them feeling better and Jakob not returning to the perplexing events of the day.

“I can come down to help tidy up in a bit, Jess,” Jakob told his wife. “I’m popping back into the office to finish up a few small things. Won’t be long.”

“Nothing to tidy, sweetie. It’s only one pot, and the dishwasher can handle the rest. Go do what you need to do. Maybe after, we can relax and watch a show?”

“Definitely. That sounds perfect. Give me a half-hour.”

Upstairs, Jakob returned to his desk and tapped a key to wake his laptop; the local newsfeed for August 17th populated his screen.

Random tragedies took the top headlines.

A young family was in a single-vehicle accident. Authorities pronounced the twenty-nine-year-old husband and father died on the scene. The wife and two children were in stable condition at the local hospital. A badly bald tire, blown out, was named the cause of the rollover.

A family was fighting for their lives after a house fire; the family dog was lost in the blaze. Neighbors alerted the fire department after seeing flames shooting from the roof. The fire department stated that the home’s fire detectors were without batteries and gave the standard reminder that checking fire detectors were a vital chore.

The fifteen-year-old girl who disappeared after a trip to the shopping mall remained missing. It had been nearly a week since she’d vanished. Her parent’s pleas for information reminded Jakob that Elsie was not to be traipsing through the city on her own.

Closing the browser tab, Jakob opened his business mail and entered his login details. The small box rattled on the screen. His username or password was incorrect. He re-entered the codes, but the box shook him off again.

“Sonofabitch, again?” he grumbled.

Looking to the side of his desk, he spied the notepad and the new password he’d created earlier for this very same hiccup. Dutifully, he entered the characters into the appropriate box.

Again, the box denied access. Below the box, the question jumped out at him, almost hovering from the screen.

“Forgot password? Click here for password reset.”

Conceding defeat, Jakob once again followed the prompts to replace his incorrect login. Then, ensuring to record the new information precisely, Jakob successfully logged into his account.

He was nearly finished his way down the list of unopened work mail when Elsie popped her head into the room.

“Night, dad,” she chirped, “See you in the morning, and mom told me to remind you not to forget that you’re picking up my dress from the seamstress shop on your way home. Thanks, dad. Love you.”

“Love you too, kiddo,” he answered, then his brow furrowed at the mention of the chore. “Elsie, wait. What dress?”

“Oh my Gawd, dad! Mom might be right, and you are going senile! The dress for Prom, remember? Josh asked me to go to his Prom; ring any bells?”

“Oh — right! Sorry! Okay, goodnight.” Jakob answered. He didn’t want to repeat the earlier events of the day, but now Jakob knew for sure that he wasn’t dreaming, in a coma, or having some other mental lapse — he remembered every disturbing detail of his daughter looking much too grown-up when that older boy, Josh came to pick her up for his Prom and how he’d consoled her after she’d returned home early, alone and in tears.

Grabbing his phone, he swiped the screen to his photos app. The most recent pictures were from the fishing trip he and Elsie had gone on the weekend before the dreaded Prom. But, after the image of her brilliant, happy smile standing with the river behind her, there was nothing.

In disbelief, he closed the app. The date at the top of the screen read June 5.

Good with numbers, the answer was in front of him in moments.

72 days from August 17, the date when he sat down at his desk.

He then checked the date he thought it was when this day began; Oct 25th. Then it turned into August 17th.

72 days.

Password reset.

February 03, 2023 20:35

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8 comments

Graham Kinross
05:32 Feb 22, 2023

Great story.

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Jane Andrews
19:19 Feb 17, 2023

Great idea for time resetting in conjunction with the pssword reset. It leaves readers wondering whether he'll be stuck in this cycle of continously leaping back 72 days because if he has trouble remembering previous passwords, how is he ever going to remember the password he's supposed to be using in his new present? If he decides not to use his computer, will he remain in the time he is now but move forward without leaping back again? What about if he buys a new computer? Will that reset time for him and give him a fresh start? You can tel...

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Jesse Upchurch
21:30 Feb 15, 2023

Excellent work! Such a unique idea, time resetting like a password. I look forward to reading your next story!

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Arpad Nagy
18:30 Feb 17, 2023

Thanks so much. I have a new story up. Much appreciated!

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Ken Cartisano
06:40 Feb 12, 2023

The story is captivating from the second sentence to the last. Great sense of building suspense. (Everything is so normal. Classic.) I'm not good with math however, and the ending left me baffled. I knew the character knew what had happened, but until reading Ms. Kaminski's comment, I wasn't sure, but that could be me, and probably is, because, despite not getting the ending without help, everything else about the story is brilliant.

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Arpad Nagy
03:28 Feb 13, 2023

Wow, thanks so much. The funny thing is that ending baffled me as well. I couldn't figure out how to have Jakob prove he'd time-traveled, so I put a bow in it. Thanks for the feedback, I appreciate it.

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Wendy Kaminski
14:12 Feb 11, 2023

Yikes, eerie factor is high on this one! If I lost 72 days every time I had to reset my password, I'd be about 12. :D Great story, very good conceptually and smoothly-flowing action. Great dialogue, too! Thanks for the enjoyable read, and welcome to Reedsy! :)

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Arpad Nagy
03:27 Feb 13, 2023

Thanks so much! I appreciate the feedback!

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