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Speculative Fiction

Clinton Fischer lay in bed staring at the ceiling. He stopped himself from looking at the clock for the umpteenth time that night. The light in the room was increasing with the gray of dawn. His feet jittered. If he were standing, it would be a foot tap. Lying down, it was more like a spasm. His fingers twitched. He took his arms out of the blanket, then put them back. He flipped to one side, then the other.

BEEP, BEEP, BEEP

"Finally," Clint stopped the alarm as he bounced out of bed.

His belly filled with helium when he stood up. Then butterflies tried to help blow it away. He jittered his way to the bathroom and stared into the mirror.

"Who needs coffee," he asked the reflection. His dark blonde hair had been trimmed yesterday, but the bed head still affected it, especially with the tossing and turning. Surprisingly, the dark bags under his eyes were minimal. With his brown eyes and heavier brow, it was hard to notice them.

He showered to tame the bed head, then calmed his hand enough to scrape the night's stubble from his face. Eventually, he decided that one cup of coffee wouldn't be a bad idea. He didn't want a headache later from foregoing the caffeine.

After the coffee and some toast, Clint looked all around. Jelly was put away, and so was the knife. His coffee cup was empty, and the pot was safe from the counter’s edge. The table had been wiped down. He checked all of the chairs too. He visited the bathroom one more time. No stray gel, foam, or lotion was still wet or greasy.

“OK,” Clint said. “All clear.”

Clint went to the closet and pulled out the dry cleaner’s bag with his best charcoal suit. He'd left it in there since picking it up last week.

His gold tie lay on the hangar atop the other garments. Bless Mrs. Barnes. She got the spot out. Clint donned the suit and tied the tie in the mirror.

"Lookin' good, Clint." He told his reflection. "Calm down. This is the second interview. If they were going to pass you by, they would have done it after you spilled soup all over yourself, like an idiot." He shook his head at himself. “No sense in dwelling. There are no re-dos.” He pulled at the tie again and went to the door of his small apartment. "Finally, off to bigger things," Clint said, looking at the yellowed wallpaper, ancient laminate floor, and dilapidated kitchenette. "Smash this interview, and it's on to the east side." He blew out a breath he hadn’t realized was caught in his chest and left.

He locked the door with a mockingly light keyring. His car was in the shop again. He didn't have the money for a new transmission. Tony must be a wizard with the way he kept it going.

Unfortunately, the budget didn't allow for a cab or Uber either. He'd have to risk the bus. They told him he was practically a shoo-in. He should be relaxed about this. The 'practically' was the part that had him worried.

Clint strode down the sidewalk with a purposeful clicking of his patent leather shoes. He tried to run through questions they might ask so he could have answers ready. "Yes, I know that system," "No, I haven't ever had an issue speaking up if I needed help with a task.  Only after I've exhausted my own abilities, of course," "Yes, I've been following this company for a while."

OW!

Clint ran into someone. "I'm so sorry. I wasn't paying attention."

He looked up at the guy he'd run into. Dirty pants with holes in the knees, a white T-shirt stained with grease, and who-knew-what. His hands were filthy, and his bare arms were scraped. Clint probably had blood stains on his suit now. Not again. There was no time to change. How do you get blood out?

"I have to warn you," a familiar voice pierced Clint's thoughts.

He looked at the stranger's dirty face with its dark brown hair and heavy brow. The dark bags under the eyes couldn't be hidden anymore. They were bruises that spread from a smashed nose. The white in one of his brown eyes was blood red.

The stranger was him.

"W-what is going on,” Clint stammered. “What happened to you?" Clint asked, disgusted, worried, and confused all at once.

"I have to warn you." The other Clint repeated. His voice was nasally through his ruined face. "You have to-"

"Nope!" Clint cut himself, off with a slash of his hand. "I'm not saving any babies, cheerleaders, or ladies named Sarah. I'm going to go to this interview and live a normal life. Find a different hero." Clint quickly sidled past his doppelganger and increased his pace.

"No," Clint's voice came from behind him. "You need-" The voice became lost in the traffic.

Clint shook off the exchange. He convinced himself that the helium-charged butterflies had left his belly and moved to his brain. He just needed to calm down and take a breath or two.

The bus stop was just ahead of him. The bus was already there. Was it running ahead of schedule? That would be great. He’d be even earlier. Maybe he could even take care of his, no, the blood on himself.

Just before he got to the bus doors, they shut in his face. "Hey!" Clint raised his arms, looking at the driver. "Come on! I’m right here."

The driver looked Clint up and down with a raised brow, shrugged, and tapped his wrist as he pulled away.

"Son of a bitch!" Clint spun and kicked gravel impotently. "Come on, If I didn't need the bus, why would I be here?" he whined at the retreating placard.

He looked up at the bus stop map. Another stop, going to the same office building, was a block over. He could make it to that stop in time for the interview if he hurried.

An alley yawned across the street from the bus stop. "Finally, some good luck," Clint huffed to himself. He jaywalked to the alley and plunged in.

The click, click of his shoes became a soggy crunch in the alley. The shoes were easy to wipe off. He hurried down the wet, gray corridor. Dumpsters lined the edges, and potholes were nearly the entirety of the road, but Clint tried to keep up his urgent pace.

A wolf whistle came from behind him. Then another from in front.

"Where you headed, boss?" A voice called as a wall of a guy with arms bigger than Clint’s thighs came from behind one of the dumpsters blocking Clint's way.

"I really don't have anything you want," Clint said. He looked at his watch, "This is ten bucks. I have no cash. A candy bar would overdraft the cards in my wallet." He looked around. Others surrounded him, none as tall as the one blocking him but all muscular, tattooed, and menacing.

A man with a blue mohawk and face tattoos stepped forward, "Awful spiffy suit for a broke ass."

"Nicest thing I own," Clint's voice shook. "I'm going to an interview."

"Oh," the guy drew out the word mockingly. "an interview. I guess we're supposed to take an IOU?"

"What?" Clint was confused and painfully aware of every second.

"When we rob a guy," Mohawk spoke slowly like he was teaching children. "He better have something. If he doesn't…" The sentence was finished and punctuated by snapping knuckles.

"C-come on, guys," Clint trembled all over. "This isn't necessary. I'm just a guy trying to live his life."

"We all got our jobs," Mohawk shrugged. Then he punched Clint in the nose.

The pain blasted to the back of his head and echoed back as the world went gray, then black. He vaguely felt his ass hit the ground.

Another fist cracked him in the face.

Clint tried to keep himself up, but his brain blipped out again. His hands were stinging and burning when he realized he was lying on the ground.

"Take the suit," the voice was watery and hard to hear over the ringing. Hands started grabbing his arms and jostling him around. "No, wait," the jostling stopped. "Like he said, he's just a dude. Let him keep the pants and shoes."

The world spun too fast, then too slow. The ringing in his head was so loud he couldn't hear if cars still existed. Slowly, he sat up. His face blasted with pain. Each heartbeat slammed a hammer against his face. His hands stung and burned from scrapes.

They took his shirt, coat, and tie. Why did he need those? Ties sucked. Who would take a tie on purpose? You only wore ties to weddings, funerals, or... Shit!

Clint popped up and lurched to the dumpster. He could still make it. He could see the bus stop. It was across the street.

He started limping, shuffling, and staggering. His eyes locked on the blue bench.

He stumbled headlong off the curb.

A horn blared, and there was a smashing impact on Clint's shoulder, then his head. He didn't have the benefit of the world blinking out this time. Instead, he felt the tumble onto bouncy aluminum and the jarring smack onto the unforgiving blacktop. And every flopping roll on that grating surface.

When Clint stopped moving, pain filled his body. It wasn't varied as it had been while he was tossed around, but it was deep and thorough. From the tip of his hair to the deepest bone, he hurt. He didn't think he'd ever move again. The world had no noise, just a constant high-pitched tone screaming at him. Bright light suffused everything, blurring edges and outlines.

"...od, ...ou ...K?" A buzz cut through the tone. "Sh... don... ead."

A shadow came into view. A man. He was clear and crisp. His cheekbones were high, his jaw strong. He was a good looking guy. He looked down at Clint. His blue eyes were deep, not ocean deep, more like Neptune deep.

"I think he's OK, ma'am," the man's voice cut through the screaming tone like a horn in a symphony. "You having a bad day, Clint?"

He knows my name? Clint tried to nod, but his entire body seared at the effort.

"Yeah," The man smiled. It was brighter than the fuzzy light around him but clearer somehow. "You look like the south end of something a northbound cat brought in."

"Huh?" Pushing that syllable out was almost too much to bear.

"Nevermind, Come on," The man put out his hand.

Somehow, Clint reached up and grasped it. Strengthed trickled into him. The pain ebbed enough to allow him to stand up. He felt like he'd been put through a meat grinder, but at least he could stand. It wasn’t tall, but he was standing.

"There we go," the stranger said. His smile was a lower wattage but still dazzling. "This is not what you expected for today, is it?"

"No," Clint grunted.

"Yeah," the tone was sympathetic and seemed sincere. "Tell me, if you could get a redo, would you do it?"

Clint looked at the handsome stranger. He'd be giving an incredulous look if he could move his face. "You mean, if I could make it to my interview, would I?" the taste of blood was in his mouth, and he could feel spit dribbling past his swollen lips. "Yeah, I would."

"OK," the stranger said, shrugging. "Hang on." He held up his hand and gave a showman’s snap.

Clint blinked at the sharp sound.

He was alone on the street. The car that had hit him was gone. The stranger was gone. Had he blacked out again? Why had they all left him?

"Thanks for nothing," he slurred.

He looked at his watch. Great, it was broken. The damn thing had stopped an hour ago. But then the second hand ticked on steadily. Clint fished for his phone. The tattooed guys had taken it. A car drove by with its radio blaring through open windows. The DJ confirmed the time while giving his next intro.

"What the hell?" Clint looked around, confused.

'If you could get a redo...'

Clint's breath caught in his chest. There was time to catch, himself. If he could get himself to run to the bus, everything would be OK.

He began shuffling painfully back through the alley. No one accosted him this time. He carefully crossed the street with the light. He trudged down the sidewalk keeping an eye out for his familiar face.

He spotted himself.

"I have to warn you," He rasped. Clint watched as he was examined with his own eyes. It was a bizarre sensation.

" W-what is going on? What happened to you?"

"I have to warn you," Clint tried again. "You have to-"

"Nope!"

The exchange was painfully familiar. Watching it from the other side, knowing what was going to happen, Made his heart heavier with every word. If he had more energy, he'd fight harder. But maybe if he let things play out, this other self would hurry on his own.

"Find a different hero," the other Clint finished and juked around him.

He was going too slow.

"No," Clint couldn't yell. His ribs hurt too bad. "You need to run." He knew he hadn't been heard. His heart fell. He sunk to the curb.

"We're stubborn, huh?"

Clint looked beside him to see someone sitting on the curb already. Several, someones. But not really. Half a dozen bodies lined the curb. They were all beat to hell, and all him.

"What the fu-"

"Yeah," A familiar melodic tone floated down. The stranger appeared behind the line of Clints. "Better luck next time, eh?" He shot another dazzling smile and pointed behind him. "I gotta see a man about a car accident, toodles."

May 05, 2023 02:29

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2 comments

V. S. Rose
00:00 May 11, 2023

This was a real entertaining story Aaron. Easy to follow, well-written, steady build of suspense and lots of questions that you keep reading to find the answers to. After Clint runs into his future self in the street all disheveled, you know the ending, but want to know how he got to become that way. Any story that keeps me hooked until the end is a good story in my opinion. I also liked how you had the line of continually growing Clint's at the end with the handsome stranger. It raises a lot of questions on who this character is and what h...

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Aaron Tippit
00:54 May 11, 2023

Thank you, for the comments, Ms. Rose. I'm glad that you enjoyed it and didn't find the story too vague or boring. I was worried about pacing on it. Thank again!

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