By Andrew Johnston
There wasn’t much in that tiny little orange-beige room, just a metal table and a couple chairs and an oversized clock that made a soul-shuddering noise every time its hands moved. Tick. Tick. Tick. Roger had seen clocks like that in every makeshift corporate interrogation room he’d seen and was beginning to wonder if there was some special catalog where managers ordered things like that. “Torture Clock – Loud Tick-Tock Makes Your Point For You.” Not that the intimidation factor of the clock was necessary at all. It was bad enough having to face down the boss alone, but the addition of a third party was scary in a whole new way.
Roger counted seven bone-rattling ticks before he spoke. “Look, I don’t blame you if you think I’m crazy. Or if you think I’m some kind of crafty jerk who likes to mess with people’s heads.”
“No one thinks you’re crazy, Mr. Davis.” The response came from the third party, a severe, slender woman holding a legal pad and wearing the kind of horn-rimmed lenses that glasses manufacturers only continued to make for purposes of nostalgia. “But there was an incident and we’d like to get to the bottom of it.”
“You say that, but Ms…sorry, Dr. Arne.” Roger cleared his throat. “…It’s just that a psychologist being here makes me think that Dr. Bretton thinks I’m crazy.”
“Watch your tone.” Dr. Bretton looked angry, but that was his normal state of being. It clearly took serious effort to put a happy look on that iron plate of a face.
“I wasn’t…never mind,” Roger sighed and tried to shrug off Dr. Bretton’s death stare. “My point is that when this started happening, I thought I was going crazy myself. But you can’t argue with results, can you?”
“I see.” Dr. Arne jotted something down on the legal pad. Roger could imagine what she was writing: Clearly delusional, totally beyond help, pretty well adjusted. “Dr. Bretton has told me what happened, but I’d like to hear it in your own words.”
“Well, I don’t know what he told you…” Roger glanced at Dr. Bretton, who was still staring him down. “Um…I told my co-workers what was going to happen next. Some of them didn’t like it. A few of them blamed me and well, it got ugly.”
Dr. Arne continued to take notes. “Why don’t we go back further. Tell me when you first came to believe that you could see into the future.”
“Okay.” Roger reclined a bit, nearly tipped over, righted himself, and tried to play it off as charm. “The first time would have been…not quite four months ago. Yeah. That was the first time I…” He glanced down at the spiral notebook resting in his lap. “… The first time I got a message.”
“And I understand that these messages take the form of automatism?” said Dr. Arne.
“I didn’t know there was a name for it but I guess you’d know,” said Roger. “Anyway, the first few messages were little things – I’d lose my keys and the message would tell me where they ended up, it would tell me that a package was coming in and it would be in the box when I checked. Little things.”
“Of course.” More scribbling from Dr. Arne. “And you found this convincing?”
“Hell no! Ah…” Roger looked back and forth at Dr. Bretton and Dr. Arne, taking note of their respective glances of disapproval. “…Sorry. I mean, at first I thought I’d stumbled onto some new memory trick. It was a few weeks before I was convinced.” Briefly absent his senses, he put the notebook on the table and stood to stretch his weary legs.
Dr. Bretton shot to his feet. “Mr. Davis, sit down now!”
Roger froze mid-stretch and slowly returned to his seat, withering beneath Dr. Bretton’s homicidal stare. “Sorry, sir, wasn’t thinking. Sorry. Um…like I said, I just ignored the messages for a while. Then one day, the message was a bunch of numbers. Looked like some sort of sports score. Now, I don’t really follow sports, but there was a basketball game that night, so I went ahead and checked. It came out exactly like what I’d written. Do you want to see the prediction?” He grabbed for the notebook.
Dr. Arne waved him away. “That won’t be necessary. Let’s talk more about what happened in the lab.”
“The lab, right.” Roger felt heat prickles on the back of his neck. He hadn’t felt like this since the third grade. “Well, I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone, believe me. I didn’t want to scare anyone or piss anyone off. All I was trying to do was help, and maybe…ah…”
Roger stopped dead still in mid-sentence, staring off into empty space. For a few seconds there was total silence save for the ticking of the clock, which if anything had grown louder. Then, just as Dr. Bretton was warming up for a shouting session, Roger returned to life. He reached out blindly for the pencil and notepad, quickly scrawling something down before dropping the pencil and falling back into his seat. Another moment passed before the three of them looked at the message:
call your son
Roger breathed heavily. “That’s exactly how it happens.” In a way, he was glad that the two of them got a demonstration. In another sense, he realized that it didn’t really help his case.
“Do you have a son, Mr. Davis?” said Dr. Arne.
“Not that I know of,” said Roger. “Maybe it’s not for me. Not all of them are. That’s what got me into trouble.”
“Then let’s talk about that.” Dr. Arne’s pen hovered over the legal pad, ready to detail the madness.
“Well…I’m not sure what Dr. Bretton told you,” said Roger.
“He told me there was a fight.” Dr. Arne glanced at Dr. Bretton, who was sighing at a steady clip. “They had to get security to rescue you. All I’m interested in is the catalyst.”
Roger chuckled to himself. “Funny, a bunch of my co-workers try to kill me and I’m the one in trouble.”
“You think this is funny?” grumped Dr. Bretton.
“Not at all, sir,” said Roger. “And I could have thought these things through a little more, you know, stepped a little more lightly around the more sensitive material. But when I first started getting the messages, I was really eager to tell people about them. I didn’t even consider that I had no way to explain how I knew these things and I didn’t think of the consequences. I mean, it was stuff they needed to know, it’s just that some of it was painful or embarrassing. So it wasn’t such a smart move to tell Steve what his wife was doing with his night shift friends during the day. And okay, if I had to talk about that con artist that clipped Maggie and Arnold and the rest of them, I should have done it in private. But it’s not like I was trying to make them feel bad. I’m not a psycho.” He turned to Dr. Arne. “I’m not a psycho, am I?”
“Not at all.” Dr. Arne exchanged glances with Dr. Bretton.
Roger knew he’d blown it. He’d stumbled into some invisible trap, given away some personal flaw to the psychologist that even he hadn’t known about. No doubt a sacking was imminent. If the situation was that hopeless, if he’d already given himself away as a nut then, he might as well offer his own half-informed explanation.
“I have a theory,” said Roger. “Care to hear about it?”
“A theory as to the nature of your…gift?” Dr. Arne expressed more derisiveness in that pause than anyone could have in words. “Perhaps a spiritual source?”
“You mean psychic crap? No, that stuff is garbage. Um…no offense if either of you are into that. And I don’t think there’s any deity worth worshiping who’d waste time telling me about sports scores. I do work in a lab, so I know there’s a scientific explanation…” Roger cleared his throat. “…I think.”
“Go ahead,” said Dr. Arne.
“Well, I don’t really know the physics behind it – I’m just a basement-level tech, make barely more than some kid handing out fries. But I’ve been thinking…” Roger took a deep breath. “…thinking that these messages might be coming from the future. I think there’s someone – maybe someone in this very lab! – who’s telling me about these bad things so that I can warn people.”
“Explain your theory.” Dr. Arne returned to her notes. Again, Roger could imagine what she was writing: Opted to humor the delusional man. Hoped he would recognize his own delusions.
“All right, so backwards time travel like you see in the movies is impossible. You know what I’m talking about, right?” Roger turned toward Dr. Bretton. “It violates all sorts of basic rules of physics. For example, it violates the Law of Conservation of Mass because molecules disappear in one time and appear in another. So we know you can’t send physical objects through time. But what about information? Could it be possible to send data back in time?”
“Information time travel?” Dr. Bretton laughed – an angry, spiteful laugh. “I look forward to receiving my first email from next year.”
“It could happen,” said Roger. “Probably not, though. I mean, you’d still be moving electrons, right? So that wouldn’t work. You’d have to send information without a medium. At least, without a medium we’d recognize.”
“And the nature of this medium?” said Dr. Arne.
“Well, I know you’d have to use some completely novel method to send it,” said Roger. “Send it direct to the person you’re contacting. It’s like this hypothetical future person is using my brain as a temporal radio receiver.”
“I’ve had enough of this.” Dr. Bretton clapped his hands on the table. “Mr. Davis, I’ve been putting up with your bullshit for too long now.”
Roger hemmed and hawed for a few seconds. “Mr…Dr. Bretton, I know you’ve been looking for a reason to get rid of me -”
“And I’ve found one,” said Dr. Bretton. “Mr. Davis…Mr. Davis!”
Roger froze again, then launched into another flurry of activity, his pencil flashing across the notepad in front of him. When he returned from the trance, Roger looked at the message on the pad then, cautiously slid it over to Dr. Bretton:
dr bretton call your son now
Dr. Bretton stared at Roger, the rage in his eyes blended with panic. “What happened? Goddamn it, what do you know?”
“I don’t know!” said Roger. “That’s not how it works!”
“Goddamn it.” Dr. Bretton pulled out his phone and hastily dialed a number, pacing the room as he listened for the response. With each passing second with no answer, his expression of rage transformed into one of fear. Finally came the answer. “Kyle? This is your father. Sorry if I interrupted you, but I had this strange feeling that…Oh God, is everything okay?…You’re sure?…Well, I’m coming down anyway.” He bolted from the office, not even pausing long enough to say anything to Dr. Arne or to finish firing Roger.
Roger stayed in his chair, listening to the tick of the clock (oddly muted now) and staring at Dr. Arne. After a small eternity, he spoke up. “Does this mean I can go now.”
Dr. Arne fidgeted with her spectacles for a few extended seconds, then tore out several pages of her legal pad, shredding them in her hands. “Case dismissed. I’m getting a drink.”
Bio: Born in rural western Kansas, ANDREW JOHNSTON discovered his Sinophilia while attending the University of Kansas. Subsequently, he has spent most of his adult life shuttling back and forth across the Pacific Ocean. He is currently based out of Hefei, Anhui province. He has published short fiction in Nature: Futures, the Arcanist and Mythic and will be featured in the upcoming Bad Dream Entertainment Horror/Humor Anthology. You can learn more about his projects at findthefabulist.com.
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