A short story by Daniel Porter
On the morning of Tom’s 18th birthday, as he lay in his bed after just waking up, he made a decision there and then that if time travel were to exist in his lifetime, this is the exact time and location he would return to first. As that thought finalised in his head, a figure appeared standing at his door.
Tom sat up in his bed to see a version of himself standing in the doorway. Realising who he was looking at and what this meant, he stood up and walked to himself. The person standing at the door looked the same age as him, a mirror image. He knew the person standing there was his future self because he didn’t have any past memories of this encounter.
It took a moment before current Tom could speak. It’s not every day you have an opportunity to converse with your future self. He slowly asked his question “Does this mean that time travel exists in the future?”
Tom wasn’t expecting an answer, it was as if his future self was looking through him, but when he got it, the words he heard didn’t give a definitive answer “It must, because I’m here. But I can’t remember how I got here or what year I’m from.”
Tom thought back to all the time travel movies and novels he’d read and watched to work out how he could prove the person in front of him was an actual time traveller. The first idea that came to his mind was how Bill from “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” proved to himself he was a time traveller. He asked himself the same question Bill asked his ‘future self’; “Wait, just so I know you are really me, how many fingers am I holding up behind my back?”
As Tom stood there with 3 fingers behind his back, the figure in front of him disappeared and reappeared in a fraction of a second.
The figure confirmed “Three”.
Surprised, Tom asked his future self “Was that a guess? How did you know?” wanting to know more.
Future Tom explained “The first time I guessed only one finger, you corrected me to three, then I pressed the rewind button for a second and I knew the correct answer to give you the second time.”
“Rewind button?” Tom asked.
Future Tom answer his questions “All I know is that I’m controlling time like..” he thought for a moment of the best way to describe it, “well, it is kind of like a DVD where you are jumping through chapters or fast-forwarding and rewinding what you are watching at the time, like I just did then.”
Tom stood there in silence. He turned around and put his hand upon his head, trying to comprehend what he had just been told. Time travel is like a DVD player fast forwarding and rewinding, jumping to chapters. He laughed as he thought about how all the movies to date had gotten it so wrong. Mind you, they are all science fiction, this is real! He pinched himself, just to be sure he wasn’t dreaming. The pinch hurt, and he didn’t wake up.
By the time he turned around to ask his future self another question, his future self had disappeared.
The events of that morning started Tom on the path he was going to take for the rest of his life. He had a new drive; knowing that time travel was going to be possible in his life. Tom didn’t have any time to mess around. Study came first, and everything else second.
When he completed his school studies, he applied for college, studying for a Ph.D. in Applied Physics.
With him knowing what he was going to accomplish in life, his dedication and drive lead him to the top of his class and he graduated with honors.
His graduation ceremony was a major event for him, not because of his achievements, but because it was the second time which he saw his future self. He stood on stage and shook his professor’s hand, accepting his degree. Tom turned to the audience to find his family and friends to show off his certificate. In searching the room for his family, he saw a familiar figure, himself, standing at the back of the auditorium. He had the same haircut, which was easy to spot and he appeared to be the same age as he was now. When he spotted his family, he smiled for a photo before rushing off the stage.
With all the other graduates now between him and the back of the auditorium, his eyes lost contact with his future self. When he could see back there again, his future self was no longer there. When he arrived at the back of the auditorium he asked a few people, who were standing there at the time, if they had seen someone who looked like him standing there, but no one could recall.
He was upset. He’d missed an opportunity to find out more information about time travel. On a positive note, it justified what he started working towards 5 years ago. He was prepared for the real world. He knew all the theory and had started to experiment, but now he could finally devote the time he needed to work on his time machine! To achieve the impossible, he would have to rewrite the books on everything he just learnt about Physics.
Tom was lucky enough to get a position back at the university he studied in. His high grades led him to assisting the very professors who taught him. This gave him access to labs and resources which he wouldn’t otherwise have had access to, which meant in most of this spare time, he could work on breaking the boundaries of time and building his time machine.
What happened next, he hadn’t planned. He met a woman and a year later, she became his wife.
She was the only other person in the world who believed in him and his project, which made her a keeper. Most other people who he mentioned it to laughed at him, which made him cautious as to who he told.
Some scientists appeared crazy, he just thought he could achieve more by not appearing that way to everyone.
On his wedding day, Tom saw his future self again. He was standing on a hill, out of people’s sight, watching him and his wife say their vows. Another missed opportunity to talk to himself.
He processed how he saw himself the night of his wedding and over his honeymoon. This was the third time that he’d seen his future self and he realised that he always appeared to be a mirror of himself, always the same age and always the same haircut. All the time he thought about it, he could only come up with one, non-scientific answer. “Maybe that was just the way time travel works”.
9 months later, his next encounter was even briefer. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a figure walk past and have a look in to the room where Tom and his wife nursed their newborn son.
As the years passed by, Tom became a lecturer and started teaching at the University, teaching the same courses which he studied himself. At least with teaching, he could provide for and look after his family. He always worked on his project in his spare time, setting up a lab at home in his study. Many a night were spent there. Whilst he was physically close to his family, he was still distant to them as his time was monopolised by his project. Even though he was in the next room, the distance ended his marriage.
It was the day his divorce was finalised that he saw himself again.
He felt the presence of a stranger sitting down next to him on his favourite park bench. He looked up to see himself sitting there. No one else was in the park at that time, so for all he knew, he was just hallucinating, until he felt a hand resting on his shoulder. He redirected his gaze from the envelope containing the signed divorce papers to his future self then back to the papers.
“You’ll be alright” he heard his voice tell him. The hand lifted up off his shoulder as a tear escaped Tom’s eye.
As Tom looked up to him and started to ask, “And how do you…” he stopped mid-sentence as he was asking the question to the empty space beside him.
Tom’s son visited him every week. He was always interested in his Dads’ work, he was the only other person who knew and cared. His son knew, because time travel would happen in his father’s life time that Tom was close to a breakthrough soon as his remaining years were getting fewer.
Tom’s health deteriorated quickly and he found himself in hospital, diagnosed in the late stages of pancreatic cancer. He could feel it invading and eating away at his body. He knew he wasn’t going to be walking out of the hospital.
Tom’s ex-wife visited him in the hospital, but each visit was short. Whilst she still had feelings for him, it was painful for her to see him there now, the cancer stripping him back to a figure she could barely recognise.
His son barely left his side.
One morning, as Tom lay in his hospital bed, he saw a familiar figure standing at the door. He barely made out the words “You’re here?”
Toms son turned around and looked towards the door “Who’s here?”
His son didn’t see what his father saw, but Tom saw a frail old man standing with a cane at the door. His son quickly realised what his father was seeing and played along with him. “Your future self is here?”
Tom nodded in response. His son looked towards the door, not wanting to spoil his father’s final vision.
His future self walked in with his cane, showing all the same idiosyncrasies in his walk as he made his way to stand at the foot of Tom’s bed. “You had the drive. But you were too focused; you lost more than you gained.” the figure told Tom.
Tom thought for a moment, his brain not able to focus as well as it once could, then acknowledged him. “But you are here… so it must be poss…”
Tom stopped mid-word, his eyes winced as he felt a surge of pain before his body went numb as the cancer he was diagnosed with made its final fatal attack.
Tom closes his eyes for the last time.
Tom’s entire life flashed before him, but he didn’t see it through his own eyes, it was like he was watching a movie play out in front of him on a DVD player. The movie played as a tribute to his life. It started with a scene of his birth. The next chapter was his 18th Birthday, making the decision to devote his life to science. The next, from a distance he witnessed his wedding. Then walking past the room the day he and his wife were celebrating the birth of their son. He saw himself sit down on a bench in a part and talk to himself, sitting there with divorce papers in hand. And in the final chapter, he saw himself lying in bed, closing his eyes.
There was darkness and silence.
A sudden swell of noise presented and Tom hears a voice, “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?”
He hears another “First time I’ve ever seen that!”
Hearing the first voice again “Yeah… I won’t tell the supervisor if you don’t”
Their conversation continues, “Is it worth turning the machine off?”
“No, no need. That program just finished. It looks like it somehow reviewed itself.”
“Wonder what that looked like?”
“We’ll never know!”