Walking through the thrift store, I ran my fingers along the secondhand jackets. A navy blue wool jacket hid matching slacks inside its cover. A subdued flannel blazer reminded me of Christmas. A gray herringbone sport jacket whispered undisclosed panache.
I bought the herringbone. While it diminished this morning’s t-shirt coffee stains, the jacket smelled like an odd naphthalene, like moth balls. As I rambled home, I admired the jacket’s meticulous weave.
I peeked inside the jacket’s front chest pocket. For a moment, I thought the previous owner had left a pocket square for me. But, upon closer scrutiny, I found a white thumb drive in there.
I darted back to the store to return the flash drive.
“We can’t take that, sir,” the thrift store clerk said.
“Why?” I asked.
“We don’t sell electronics. But hey, if it was in the pocket of a jacket you bought from us, it’s yours,” he said. “All sales are as-is.”
I strolled back to my apartment and rubbed the drive with my thumb. My curiosity drowned out the din of the taxicabs and the rank melange of the city streets.
After arriving home, I sat at my kitchen table and awoke my laptop. I slipped the thumb drive into the USB port. A window popped up, containing a disarray of files and icons. I clicked the heading bar at the top of the window that read “Kind” and the files organized themselves by type.
The drive contained three varieties of files—music, photos, and Word documents. I consider myself a connoisseur of music, but I didn’t recognize any of these songs. “Amajaca” by the Beetlemongers, for example, was nothing I had ever heard of. I clicked play on “Amajaca.” It sounded crisp, clear, and groovy. It sounded like the best band I had never heard of. “Amajaca” had something else to it, something I couldn’t immediately discern. The song sounded like it was dancing, moving before me as it played through my tiny computer speakers. It was robust 3-D audio, like a really good 5.1 surround system, but airing impossibly full through an inadequate soundsystem.
After the song played through, I clicked Command-I to extract the file info. The file type read “smp3.” I had never heard of the smp3 format. The file was created in 2059, 40 years in the future. At first I thought, maybe the thrift store clerk was playing a joke on me, but the audio sounded too sophisticated to be fake.
I took the herringbone jacket off and hung it on the back of the adjacent kitchen chair. The photo files seemed better organized than the music, but only because the files appeared in a numeric sequence. I clicked on “001.sjpg.” It was a hi-res picture of President Donald J. Trump, but he looked older and fatter. Trump formed two vees with his right and left hand fingers. The podium at which he stood featured a campaign sign that read “Trump/Palin 2024.” “002.sjpg” showed the front page of the New York Times from November 2024. The headline read TRUMP WINS IMPOSSIBLE THIRD TERM.
“035.sjpg” showed a map of a land that seemed unfamiliar. The biggest city on the east coast of the map was New Philadelphia. On second look, it was the United States, but the land mass was smaller and the coast had crept up considerably. To the west was the Arizona Bay. The country was called U.S.N.A and annexed parts of Mexico and Canada.
“049.sjpg” portrayed a jungle world, ostensibly viewed from space. Two moons orbited the green mass. It’s sky had more of a red hue than a blue one. A caption in the lower left of the screen read “Mars: Terraform 2218.”
I got up from the table and poured myself three fingers of bourbon. One finger usually did the trick, but three seemed right under the circumstances. After the whisky kicked in, I returned to the computer.
The Word documents didn’t open at first. Microsoft Word gave me a warning pop-up message that said “This file has been formatted with an unknown version of Word, would you like to format it for your version?” I clicked OK.
The first document read, “TIME TRAVELER’S JOURNAL, DATE: JANUARY 15, 3018 - In the event that I should lose this drive, I have encoded it with a temporal locator protocol. If you are reading this — and you are not me — chances are that this drive doesn’t belong to you. But, no worries. I am able to locate the drive within an hour, relative to when it is activated.”
I pulled the drive out of my computer and slammed the screen down. My hands shook. I broke into a cold sweat.
Someone knocked at my door.
I got up, darted to the door, and looked through the peep hole. An older, mustachioed man wearing a gray herringbone vest and matching herringbone pants stood expectantly in view.
“Yes?” I asked.
“It would appear you have something that belongs to me,” he said.
“The drive. Yes, I’m sorry. I found it in my jacket. I didn’t know whose it was. I’m so sorry,” I said, talking louder and faster through the door.
“May I come in, sir?”
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Who I am is unimportant. What you have is important. And, it is mine.”
An old man of his stature couldn’t raise much of a ruckus, so I unbolted the door and let him in.
“Would you like some tea?” I asked.
“Tea? No, thank you. Say, what year is it?”
“2019,” I said.
“Ah, I’d like a glass of water, straight from the tap, please.”
I brought the man a glass of water. We sat at the kitchen table.
“How much did you see?” he asked.
“Not much. A song, a handful of photos, and the disclaimer document,“ I said.
“You’re not going to erase my brain are you?”
“No. Nothing draconian like that.”
“Oh, nothing. Nothing at all,” he said. “The future is so disastrous that there’s nothing we can do to effectively change it. And, even when we do change it, it’s hard to judge whether the change is good or bad without letting time roll on for a while, after which new, inextricable problems emerge.”
“Does Trump really win a third term?”
“Well, yes, but five years after he wins, we write a new Constitution, one that better reflects our digital, post-modern society. The old Constitution wouldn’t have been abandoned if it hadn’t been so defiled.”
“But what about the rising oceans?” I asked.
“It’s horrible, but it unites us and forces us to create a new economy, one not susceptible to corporate corruption.”
“How do you do that?”
“I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you,” he said with a grin.
“OK. What now?”
“I take the drive,” he said.
“Can I keep the jacket?”
The man ran his hand over his stubble.
“I’d like to take that, too. But, I’ll make it worth your while,” he said.
He pulled a napkin from his pocket and scribbled six numbers on it.
“These are the winning lotto numbers for next Wednesday. $300 million,” he said. He got up from the table, donned the herringbone (which fit him better than me), and skedaddled before I could say goodbye.
I looked down at the numbers. $300 million could by a whole lotta herringbone. I ran my fingers over the napkin and considered not whether the numbers were legit, but whether $300 million would ruin me. I guess I would have to win the money first and let time roll on for a while to know for sure. The napkin smelled like an odd naphthalene, like moth balls.