Mr. Forma’s eyes pointed in opposite directions behind his huge glasses. He was covered in a blanket and shivered as he spoke, a sickly smile on his face revealing his weird teeth. Other than being strangely unsettling, he was polite: he had apologized for the warmth of the room already.
“In the future, people will worship the algorithm like they used to worship God.”
I wiped the sweat off my brow. The heater was going full blast in the little apartment. I took a seat and drank another glass of lemonade.
“You big on computers, Mr. Forma?”
He smiled again. “Indeed I am.”
“I bought my nephew a computer this summer,” I said, trying to make conversation. “One of those Commodore ones. He says he likes it.”
He always had that smile. He smiled like a goddamn loon. I didn’t like him. A reclusive millionaire that lived in an abandoned motel by a random highway... And his eyes - I know he couldn’t help it, but the fact that he never really looked at me was unnerving. Finally he spoke.
“More primitive than a baby’s first abacus compared to the computers where I am from.”
“That’s right, you claim to be a time traveller.” Forma tapped his glasses and grinned - as per usual. I chuckled. “You are a difficult man to get an interview with, Mr. Forma.”
I reached into my bag and pulled out his board game from the mid-60’s: The Unspeakable Tale. It plunked heavily on the little wooden table.
“It was even harder to find a version of your board game that hasn’t been destroyed.”
This time he laughed out loud - a kind of bark that slowly turned into a wheeze. “Have you played it? It’s Turing complete.”
“I tried to play,” I said, drinking some more lemonade. “It’s a little complicated for me.”
“Oh, come now miss Robertson - don’t play dumb. You had to have gotten to at least level thirty-one to decode the location of-” he gestured around him “-my home.”
“I suppose that’s true, Mr. Forma.” I didn’t tell him that a dozen other reporters were helping me with it including Jonathan. I still needed to thank him - he figured it out almost completely by himself. Mr. Forma continued.
“It’s more advanced than any computer around today if you follow the storyline. It can tell the story of my home. You can play it alone or with five-and-a-half billion others. You can turn on all the lights or none.”
I pretended to take notes then leaned forward. “What about the disappearances of the people who played it?”
“What about them?”
I thought about it for a second. “Well they all had played the game for months, apparently becoming obsessed with it. One of them was from around here: Gerald Hessted spent a hundred thousand dollars getting more sets until his house was filled with it, and then he just... disappeared.”
Forma continued his smile. The shadows in the little room were disconcerting, and it was still extremely warm in there.
“My board game follows an algorithm, miss Robertson. You know what that is, do you not?”
I nodded. He continued.
“If you play the game long enough, you’ll unravel the pattern - the algorithm. You’ll be able to play it without the pieces. You’ll learn the forgotten history of the future... as Mr. Hessted did.”
That was an interesting quote: I wrote it down. “Can you tell me the story of where you claim to come from? Of your home?”
He shook his head, his smile fading a little. I hear the door behind me opening and his goon standing there.
“I believe our interview is over. I hope your article is successful. I made sure the parking lot is well lit for you, miss Robertson.”
I drove home with what notes I could gather along with the game I brought with me. Already the name of the article came to me: ‘The History of the Future: A Rare Interview with a Reclusive Genius.’
I pulled into my driveway and called Jonathan again to try and thank him for his assistance with the game. He still wasn’t answering - I’d try again in the morning.
I then swooped down to my typewriter and tapped out the title. Forma hadn’t been heard from in a decade: He was a suspect in a few of the disappearances, but nothing ever came from them.
A title was good enough for now, I thought as I turned on the tv in the living room. It had only been a few hours but Forma’s old photo from when he was part of the Manhattan project was on the screen.
“Reclusive millionaire Thomas L. Forma has issued a statement saying that he will now only take interviews and win ten thousand dollars from persons who reach level thirty-seven of his popular, yet banned, board game, ‘The Unspeakable Tale.’ Out of publication since 1979, ‘The Unspeakable Tale’ is now the most sought-after game—”
I wandered back to my typewriter and started at the beginning. Mr. Forma was only twenty-two when he joined the Manhattan Project. He grew up in a New Jersey suburb. The government was very tight-lipped about how such a young man joined the prestigious group of physicists.
Mr. Forma himself said that he sent intriguing notes and blueprints to some of the members. Over the years, Forma began to embellish and claimed that he was a time traveler intent on changing the past.
“He never said if he was changing the past for the better,” I wrote as I said it out loud. Curious detail to leave out of one’s personal history if someone was going to be so outlandish, I thought.
I took the box out and just started looking through the pieces and the hefty manual. The setting of the story was a fantasy - a dead world where you and your team are the last survivors of a race of creatures who could warp the world to their wishes. The ‘board’ pieces themselves could be fit together in myriad ways, constructing a new world for the players to play in, but it always hinted that there was a “correct” state - a ‘canon’ version to play the game if one wanted to.
I wrote up a quick explanation of how to play the board game when I looked at the clock again: nearly eleven at night. I looked out the window to the edge of the suburb where the woods started.
A thought entered my head about Forma but I dismissed it. No, he wasn’t a time traveler, I told myself. Yes, he’s very clever, but that doesn’t mean he’s from the future.
I kept staring into the woods and watched the trees slowly move back and forth in the wind. The stars were blinking in the night and for a moment I felt unmoored.