“Honey, please don’t forget to take your medication,” said Haley Dutessa, poking her head through doorway leading from the kitchen to the living room, where her husband James sat, typing away on his laptop. Having heard what sounded like his wife coming up their basement stairs to his back, he turned in that direction.
“Over here silly,” he heard, clearly from the kitchen. He turned—this time in the correct direction, and met the eyes of his wife.
She was holding one hand over the bottom of the cordless telephone she had pinned between her shoulder and ear and smiling, using her free hand to waggle an orange prescription bottle in the air. The five foot, nine inch, blue eyed, blonde haired former model and current housewife was far, far out of James’s league, though he had given up arguing this with her by the third year of their marriage.
Proving this point, she disappeared behind the dividing wall for a moment, returning just a second later with the bottle of medication in one hand, and a glass of water in the other.
“Because I know that you’ll forget if I don’t bring it in,” she said, smiling and leaning in for a kiss.
“Thank you sweetie,” he said, returning both the smile and the kiss before reverting his attention back to his laptop.
James was, as most people are, a very average looking human being. He was relatively healthy, physically speaking—other than the heart condition, which was under complete control with his medication regime—and incredibly intelligent, but gave off a the vibe of someone who spent most of his middle school days stuffed in a locker.
Most of the attention that he had garnered from women in his formative years had been more based in his wealth than his personality—at least until he met Haley. An inventor, James had secured a fair few patents on landmark technological breakthroughs—some of which had become ubiquitous inside the American household, others limited to the ownership of the fabulously wealthy. Luckily for his family, James’s success had pushed them closer to “fabulously wealthy” than “average American.”
“Hey,” his wife said, causing him to look back up from the computer. “Take ’em now before you forget. I don’t need you dying on me.”
“Of course, you wouldn’t want that now would you,” he asked with a smile and a wink, closing the laptop and setting it aside. Leaning forward, he grabbed the bottle of pills, opening it and sliding one out of the bottle with his forefinger. He popped it in his mouth and grabbed the glass of water off of the table, standing to stretch a bit.
“Was that your mother on the phone,” he asked, bringing the glass to his lips to wash down his medication. “Because I wanted you to ask her if she could come by on Tuesday and watch Addison, I”ll be-” In mid-sentence, he stopped, for at that exact moment the glass in his hand, just inches from his face, exploded spectacularly.
Immediately, Haley shrieked and fell to the floor as James—his hand bleeding profusely and face laden with bits of glass, stood in shock. For a moment, he stood pondering what it was that had just happened. The sound was enormous, far greater than one would expect from an exploding glass of water, he thought, though his exposure to the phenomenon was limited enough that he couldn’t say for sure.
“JAMES,” he heard his wife call from approximately one foot to his right, and six feet down. This call acted to snap him out of the slight trance he had been in. The amount of pain pulsing through his right hand seemed to explode as he looked directly towards it and realized there was a small hole carving out a tunnel through his appendage.
As the realization swept over him, he fell to the floor waiting for the sound of the next gunshot. Unless his right palm had been the shooter’s target, he or she had missed their mark and would likely be firing again.
“James,” he heard his wife say again, but he turned to quiet her before she gave their exact location away. He was unsure of where the shot had originated from, and didn’t want to give the gunman an advantage. He turned and whispered to his wife, ensuring she was okay. She, in turn, assured him that she was relatively unharmed, but slightly unsettled by a bullet having just been sent through her husband’s hand, a mere foot away from her body.
Approximately a minute later, when no further shots had been fired, James mustered up the courage to peek over the table he and his wife had been using as cover. The larger of the two windows in the living room had been shattered, giving an unobstructed look out into the rolling hills that surrounded their home, cascaded in darkness.
He saw nothing.
“Listen,” he said to his wife, who was breathing quite heavily and looking panicked, as you may expect her to given the situation at hand. “I’m going to hop over the couch and run towards the basement door. If someone was shooting, they were shooting at me. If I can get downstairs I can get to the gun—and to the machine. You crawl into the kitchen and call 9-1-1.”
“The machine,” she said, eyes wide. “Is it ready? Are you sure?”
“I figure this is a nice time to give it a shot,” he said. “Stay down in the kitchen. The blinds are probably down and the doors locked. Get to the phone, make the call, and stay out of the line of sight of any windows. See if you can get behind the island in the kitchen.”
She nodded not once, but continually, indicating that she both understood the plan and was terrified of what was about to happen.
At his signal, James stood and tumbled over the couch, landing on his feet and breaking into a run towards the basement door only feet away. Simultaneously, his wife scrambled on hands and feet to the kitchen.
James reached the door, which was already open, and ran down the stairs. Still no gunshots.
By this point, his time was running fairly short. His hand continuing to leave a Hansel and Gretel-esque trail of blood behind him as he ran, he made his way to his shop desk, opening the top drawer and grabbing his handgun. Ensuring it was loaded, he chambered a round and tucked it in his waistband at his back. Grabbing a towel that was unlikely to be clean given its placement on the floor of the basement, James wrapped his hand to the best of his ability while he ran to the other side of the basement, where the rudimentary time machine sat on the ground.
It hadn’t been tested to this point—at least not by a human. Through trial and error, he found that he could send both animate and inanimate objects back in time by, at most, 10 minutes. Three of the rats he had used were transported back in time without incident. Or at least, that’s his best guess, as rats are rarely able to communicate their thoughts and potential time-travel experiences to humans.
Testing had been, at this point, limited. Given the situation of his hand and the attempt on his life, James thought this to be an apt time to put his machine to the test. He turned the dial using his good hand, pressed the button, and was encased in an orb of light and high pitched whistling.
Then, it stopped.
Looking around, he was unsure of whether it had worked. A glance at the blood soaked rag indicated that, if it had, his hand wasn’t any better off than it was a moment ago. Or a moment from now. Time travel was confusing.
Reaching behind his back, he realized that his gun, too had made the journey through time, if he had indeed traveled back 10 or so minutes. Cautiously, he began walking towards the stairs, when he noticed that there was no trail of blood leading down into the basement. He was, in fact, 10 minutes ago—meaning he had not been shot yet. Or, at least, other him hadn’t been shot yet.
While the dexterity of his hand may not have returned, he still had an opportunity to catch—and perhaps kill—the person who tried to do that very thing to him just minutes ago—and minutes from now.
He crept slowly up the stairs, careful not to make a sound, fearful he’d catch his own attention and cause some sort of time paradox. His understanding of how time travel worked was derived primarily from an episode of Futurama. Time travel created, in essence, a copy of the individual, his protons and neutrons and electrons and other -trons disassembled, sent back in time, and reassembled upon landing in the appropriate period of time. The universe, from there, tended to balance itself out by killing one of the duplicates, allowing the other to live on in its place.
Keeping in mind that he could be killed at literally any moment, James reached the top of the stairs and quietly swing the door open, fully aware that he—10 minutes ago James, was sitting on the couch just 15 feet away.
Just as the door swung ajar, he heard his wife call out from the kitchen
“Honey, please don’t forget to take your medication.”
James waited a moment until he heard his wife call out again.
“Over here silly.”
He crept out of the basement and around the corner. Walking quickly but silently down the hallway, he reached the front door and made his exit. He had maybe a minute now to get to the side of the house, locate the gunman, and stop him from ever firing the shot that would claim his hand and leave permanent scars on his face.
The t-shirt and shorts he had been wearing didn’t hold up to the cold wintery elements very well, the cool evening air blistering against his skin. But with little time to spare, he took to a light jog, rounding the corner and pressing himself against the side of the house, drawing the gun from his belt while he scanned the horizon for the shooter.
Still, he saw nothing.
Edging his way along the perimeter of the house, James drew closer and closer to the window. He cautioned a glance in the room and watched as he kissed his wife, then grabbed the pill bottle off the coffee table. He had just seconds until the shot would ring out.
“Thank you sweetie,” he heard himself say inside the glass, his head still turned scanning the horizon. He heard nothing inside the house, returning his gaze to the window in time to see both he and his wife turning to look towards the basement door before shrugging their shoulders and turning back. The cat had probably knocked something over.
Knowing he had just seconds left, he turned again and nervously canvassed the yard with his eyes, looking for the person responsible, his eyes falling on nothing but an empty backyard of rolling, dark hills. Getting nervous, he looked back in the window and watched as he—10 minutes ago James—brought the glass to his mouth and began tilting it to take a sip.
Ten minutes ago James took a gulp of water relatively unperturbed, swallowed his heart medication and stretched a bit. He looked at Haley, who smiled and began walking towards the kitchen.
No shots were fired. His hand was intact—not his hand, but second timeline James’s hand—he had taken his pill and then set the glass, which remained very intact, back on the table. Perplexed, James—real James, current James—continued to watch himself through the window.
For a moment, everything looked as if it would proceed normally. Unable to look away from himself for reasons more pertaining to confusion than vanity, he watched as his eyes—James’s eyes, fake James, 10 minutes ago James—grew wide. His hand, the same hand that had, just ten minutes ago, been hit by a bullet and bled profusely, flew to his chest. His eyes beginning to wince, he watched as 10 minutes ago James attempted to call out to his wife before slumping over on the couch, his heart very much unbeating.
Haley walked back into the room looking anything but concerned. She checked her husband’s pulse to ensure that he was, in fact, dead, and grabbed the glass from the table. James—current James, alive James—ran around the side of the house and peered through the closed blinds of the kitchen window as his wife dumped the glass of water into the sink, and walked over to the phone on the wall. She picked it up and calmly dialed three numbers.
“Hello yes, please come quickly, I think my husbands had a heart attack, oh God,” she said doing a wonderful job of feigning emotion. “Thank you, please quickly, please,” she finished, relaying their address to the dispatcher, who would undoubtedly pass the information along to paramedics, who would show up to a very dead James and a wife playing the part of a distraught, innocent woman.
He took a few steps back ward from the window and slowly fell to a sitting position, dropping the gun by his side. His wife, he had realized by this point, probably didn’t love him as much as she’d let on. She had poisoned him—10 minutes ago James—and had tried to poison current James. The explosion of glass destroyed his hand, but saved his life.
Suddenly, he stood up. How many minutes had it been? Probably six, or seven. He had time. Grabbing the gun, round still chambered, James jogged to the front of the house, entered the front door, and headed towards the basement. Putting little care into going undetected, he strode downstairs and across the room, towards the machine. He tucked the gun into his waistband by his back, turned the dial, and pressed the button. The light and the whistling initiated, and he found himself very much in the same position he was in minutes ago, the first time he used the machine. This time, though, he had to pull the trigger and destroy the glass—ideally before it reached his hand. If his hand was destroyed he’d head back downstairs again and begin the loop again. Or at least, that’s what he assumed. Time travel was, after all, confusing.
Climbing the stairs a bit quicker and a bit less quiet this time, James—real James, current James—waited for the same auditory cues he had heard the first time, but heard nothing.
“Thank you sweetie,” he heard come from his own mouth. He had waited too long to go back. Ten minutes hadn’t been enough. He was about 30 seconds from taking a very deadly sip of water. With reckless abandon, James ran from the basement, around the corner, down the hallway, and out of the front door. They had certainly heard him—heard something at least—but perhaps he was quiet enough that it could be written off as the sounds of their cat. For right now, that wasn’t his primary concern.
Rounding the corner, he knew his time was limited. As he reached the window he looked in and realized, in horror, that 10 minutes ago James had already picked up the glass of water. He pointed the gun at the glass, knowing that destroying it—and his hand—was the only way he could stop himself from taking the sip of water laced with whatever it was that his wife had used to poison him. His hand shaking, he watched as he brought it to his lips, trying desperately to think of another way out of this scenario—a way out of the loop that he was about to create.
Just as his lips touched the glass, James shifted the gun about an inch to his right and pulled the trigger, sending the bullet ripping through the insides of his wife’s chest. She dropped quickly, though he declined to stick around to watch much longer.
Knowing full well that he would return to the machine to stop the man who killed his wife, James—current James—sprinted around the house to the front door he had left unlocked, entering anything but gracefully. Running at full speed in a race against only himself, James tore town the hallway, turning around the corner and propelling himself through the basement doorway and down the stairs.
Leaving a trail of blood that would be a real bitch to get out of the rug, James—real, current James—crossed the length of the basement and approached the machine. Knowing that it was the only way to break the cycle, he put the chambered round—his second to last—into the machine, destroying far beyond repair the high-tech gadgetry and wiring held within.
He turned quickly as he heard —his footsteps—begin to come down the stairs. This was going to be incredibly messy and extraordinarily difficult to explain to the police, but that was an issue for another James. With a deep breath, James—current James, real James—chambered the last round, and put it into his own head, closing the loop.