My fingertips curled over the credit card thin edge of rock, and I fought against the pain slicing into them. I glanced down and saw a small pebble jutting from the cliff face that would be just big enough for the rubber toe of my climbing shoe. They always looked like they'd snap off with my weight, but never did. The ground was miles below me. Sweat dampened my forehead as my pulse quickened. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I hadn’t left the ground at all. The gray rock I clung to, the chirping birds, the bright blue sky, and even my own skin all looked so real I couldn’t convince my mind. I even felt a light breeze cool my damp skin. I laughed. “Brian, what’ve you done? This is insane!”
I pressed the button by my temple, and the virtual reality shield faded away, revealing Brian’s meticulous laboratory to me once again. Grinning like a doofus, I waited for Brian’s reaction, but he didn’t say anything. His face twitched in what could be mistaken for a brief smile if I stretched the definition of smile a bit.
“They nominated me for an award for my football one,” he said this with a bit of a groan like delivering terrible news.
“You deserve it, man. This is amazing! Next level! I’ve never seen graphics like this, but also my whole body is sore. I’m all out of breath. It’s like I did climb that cliff.” I pulled off the wires attached to my body and stepped off the machine
Brian shrugged and drummed a beat on his desk with his pen. “They say I’ll be a hero. No more concussions. No more life threatening injuries. Sports that are actually accessible to any physical ability. World changing.”
“Yeah! Cause it is. I’m thinking how Carlos could climb this same cliff. You know how depressed he’s been in that wheelchair. This could give him…I don’t–”
“I get it. That’s why I made it all. I just don’t feel good about…” His voice trailed off, and he squeezed his eyes shut tight. “Look, I need to tell you something. I need to tell someone.”
“Who better than your best friend since we were like five?” I chuckled, hoping to lighten his mood. We’d been friends for longer than I could remember. In theory, I should know everything about him. Brian’s always been one of those people you never feel like you really know.
“Yeah…it’s a big secret though. I shouldn’t say anything.”
“Out with it. Can’t hold it in now.”
“It’s…well…the idea for all of this. Well, it wasn’t really mine.”
“Not sure I’m following.” I pulled up a chair, giving this my full attention.
“I…I stole the idea. There I said it.” Brian threw his arms up like releasing this information out into the universe.
He rolled his eyes and shook his head, saying, “Oh the future.”
“The future. I traveled a few hundred years into the future and stole this idea from some woman.”
The words were a lot to process. My first thought, as unhelpful as it was, being why would this take a few hundred more years to make? Sure, for right this moment it looked huge and revolutionary. It also kind of felt like a logical next step. We had virtual reality at least. It just wasn’t as good. I fished through my thoughts to the most important thing. “Wait, hold up. You’re telling me you time travel?”
“Holy, shit! I mean this is a cool idea, but time travel? You’re holding out on us all with time travel?”
“Trust me, you don’t want to know how I do that.” His eyes widened and he shook his head dramatically.
“Ok, at least tell me. I won’t tell a soul, but I gotta know!” I felt my eyes bulging out of my skull.
“I’m afraid it would change how you see me.”
“Nothing would.” The words came out easily, but then my mind hesisted. How bad could it be? Like if Brian murdered someone would I still see him the same way? I scolded myself for thinking like that. I knew Brian my whole life. He would never murder someone.
“I kind of had to kill someone for it,” Brian shrugged.
My breath caught in my throat and slowly suffocated me.
“I don’t know if I should say someone. I’m not sure if they are people really. People like,” Brian added in such a calm voice, I wondered if I misheard him.
“Can we go back to the start here? I think I’m missing some key details.”
“Sure, I guess.” Brian sighed making it known to me he didn’t enjoy mentally reliving this.
“Before you think less of me, you should know this all happened one night in a sweat lodge and I wasn’t totally myself.”
“A sweat lodge?”
“Yeah, some wellness retreat thing I went to while dating Kelsey.”
“Yeah, you know…huh, maybe you never met her actually.”
Brian did have a habit of going through girlfriends quicker than I could keep up with. I shrugged it off and waved my hand, telling him to proceed.
“So we did this sweat lodge thing. I take a break in the middle to take a piss. The cool air is nice, so I wander around the woods a bit. I’m a little out of it. There was something in the air in there, maybe. Anyway, I found this person-like creature.”
“What do you mean by that?” I leaned back on my chair taking this all in.
“It had some human features. Like walking on two feet. Human height. A lot more hair though and–”
I threw a hand up to stop him right there. “Sounds like Bigfoot. You tellin’ me Bigfoot exists and has time travel powers?”
“Huh, yeah kind of like Bigfoot. I never put that together. Not quite though.”
I laughed. I couldn’t stop. I was almost falling to the floor to roll over in laughter.
“Man, you had me going but took it just a tad too far.”
“I’m not making this up.”
“Go back in time and get me something.”
He rolled his eyes and then vanished. In the blink of an eye he was gone. I nervously crept towards where he was sitting and ran my hand through the space. I didn’t know if this was some trick of light or something. I didn’t feel him anywhere. I slowly stood, my eyes dashed in all directions searching for him. I had this feeling he would suddenly jump out and laugh at me for falling for all this. Eventually, that feeling faded to confusion. I roamed the building searching for trap doors or anything that could help this act. Then I sat and waited. I waited so long that I fell asleep. When I woke up several hours had passed and he was still gone. Unsure what else to do, I left a note and walked out the door. Helplessly I went to his apartment. I called everyone I knew he knew. No one knew anything. I searched and searched.
After a couple days, his family called the cops and reported him missing. I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t tell the police the truth. I’d end up in a hospital. I could tell they thought of me as suspect number one, but they had no proof.
Brian missed the award’s show. He missed one of our close friend’s weddings. He just vanished. I couldn’t make sense of that.
I tracked down Kelsey and found out where these woods were. I walked all day and night, exploring every inch. Right after turning to head back, accepting my failure, I saw one. It was on two feet like a human and walking like one. Its body was covered in fuzzy red hair. It had a tail a bit like a racoon’s tail that bounced behind it as it walked. The creature turned to stare at me and I felt like I was peering into galaxies staring into its eyes. I saw flashes of all sorts of scenes. People at war, parents hugging children, explosions, storms, gardens, dinosaurs, couples meeting for the first time, holidays being celebrated, and so much more. The eyes sucked me into a trance. I could see everything that had happened and perhaps things that have never been. Worlds I didn’t recognize.
“What are you doing here?” The creature asked in a deep booming voice.
“I’m trying to find my friend.”
The creature’s mouth opened to reveal sharp fangs. “Leave us alone.”
“I…I…don’t mean any harm. I only want to know what happened to my friend.”
“Our powers are not yours to have.”
“I don’t want them. I only want your help.” My body shook and my legs wobbled. I stepped back ready to run. Then I saw an image in the creature’s eyes of Brian.
“He got what he deserved.”
Brian was strapped to a long wooden plank. A group of human-like creatures with long stringy black hair were chanting and marching him up towards a bubbling orange volcanic pool.
“Our powers don’t last when stolen. He killed three of my kind to get more.”
Guilt surged through me. If I had known the sacrifice involved, I never would have asked for proof.
“You could face a similar fate.”
“Nope. No thank you! I respect you. I’ll be on my way.”
“No loyalty?” The creature chuckled.
“Oh, I have loyalty. But accountability matters. If a person does something shitty, they deserve the consequences, right? I know what he did was wrong. And…I’m sorry for your loss.” I was. They seemed like incredible creatures.
“Thank you,” the creature said suspiciously.
A million questions swirled through my mind. I could talk to this creature all day. Fear had my heart ready to burst and I thought maybe I shouldn’t push things. I nodded respectfully and bolted. Brian was a good friend, but he wasn’t a good person. I didn’t think he deserved death by volcano exactly, but being my friend didn’t mean he didn’t deserve something. Those magnificent creatures certainly didn’t deserve to die so we could virtually climb rocks a few hundred years ahead of schedule. Nice as it was. I sucked in a deep breath. Man, I wish I didn’t have to keep all this secret.