Narrated by Bob Eccles
Something wet was soaking Amy’s shoulder. She sprang up and looked around, swiping at the liquid with her hand. Her head hurt and her whole body was numb but the translucent puddle was not coming from her, it was not blood.
“What’s…?” Amy tried to steady herself as her body slid back to the ground. She took a moment to center her vision and saw bottles scattered all around her. She was lying between two aisles of hygiene products and was surrounded by curious onlookers.
“Are you okay?” Someone kneeling beside her asked.
“Yeah.” Amy tried to stand up once more without success.
“Careful. You took a nasty spill.”
Amy glanced around again. She was pretty sure she was in a grocery store but couldn’t remember entering one. Or what grocery stores could still be so nice, so pristine, and still functioning.
“Where am I?” She asked.
“Hallman’s. You gave that lady quite a scare.” The man nodded to a nearby woman who was shaking and being comforted by a group of store employees. Amy caught her eyes and saw them go wide and white before the woman jerked away.
“She said you came from nowhere. Gave her quite a scare.” The man repeated. As Amy’s numbness receded to a tingling she realized the man was rubbing her back.
“I have to go.” Amy forced herself to her feet. Her legs were phantoms beneath her and each step was awkward but she managed to make it work.
“Wait!” The man looked around, confused as Amy stumbled away.
She hobbled through the store as shoppers watched her go. They muttered over her strangeness but no one tried to stop her.
When Amy made it outside she was shocked by the rush of wailing sirens and screeching tires. It sounded like a raid, like the bombs were coming, and she ran down the street for cover.
As Amy shoved her way past irritated crowds of people she started to slow down. Why was no one else running? Instead of panicking, the people around her were staring at her and pulling their children away as if she had lost her mind. The crowd kept moving at a brisk pace and Amy was suddenly the one being jostled around.
She sheltered her eyes and looked up at the sun that was pushing a heavy heat upon her. The dissonant sounds continued to blare and screech but nothing was wrong. She was safe and everything was okay.
Amy yelped in joy. She sprinted down the street once more, almost skipping; full of energy that she didn’t know how to express. People were giving her funny looks again but that only made her happier. She kept running to keep herself from greeting each person she passed and from embracing them as she desperately wanted to.
When her path was blocked by a rush of cars Amy stopped, panting, but still smiling. She breathed in the dirty air and loved it. The smoke and fumes meant life. It was harsh and polluted but a wonderful replacement for the rotting death and sulfur she remembered.
Amy took a seat on the curb and let the city flow around her. Her mission had been a success and she was back.
Amy was standing outside the Brookeford University for Technology, trying to decide if she should go in. The building was far nicer than she remembered. It had a sleek design with warm metals glinting in the sun and a beautiful campus spread out behind it that could have passed for a walk-through garden. Even the old brick research facility that stood beneath the additions had been restored from the crumbling, bombed out building she remembered.
Amy looked down at her cracked coat and the grungy sweater she wore underneath that scratched at her neck. It was far too hot for such an outfit but it was all she had. She pulled the coat shut in an attempt to conceal all the dirt and dried blood before stepping up to the doors.
Inside, the building was empty and Amy took her time looking around. It was eerie how similar the place was to the way it used to be while still being so different. The rooms and hallways were all in the same place but there were no armed guards and no gurneys or cries from the wounded. The rotten, septic stench was gone, replaced with something sweet as honey. Instead of rooms overcrowded with wailing orphans and dying soldiers there were classrooms and offices. The air was no longer sticky with sweat and blood, now the building was calm and cool.
After some wandering about Amy finally found a cluster of offices marked as the physics department. She scanned the list of names outside and found “Professor Nicholas T. Dowman, 112B.”
“Nick?” Amy knocked on his door before pushing it open.
“Yes? Come in.” He looked up as Amy stepped into his office, “Oh?”
He clearly didn’t recognize her. Amy had not expected him to but seeing the unfamiliarity on his face left her far more saddened than she could have ever predicted.
Nick put down the book he had been reading and scratched at the back of his head. His hair was short and styled, his ragged black beard was gone and he had a pair of thin reading glasses but he was still the same to Amy. His face had its familiar warm tones and his careful eyes made her chest shudder.
“Usually my students call me Professor.” He said.
“I’m not a student.” Amy’s voice threatened to crack so she cleared her throat.
“I don’t think we’ve met, then.” He regarded her again, more closely.
Amy stood just inside Nick’s office and considered bolting out. She felt unable to face him but couldn’t move. He didn’t remember her but he was the only person she would know, and all too well at that.
“I’m Amy-” She said, catching herself before using the surname that no longer applied to her, “Amy Truman.”
Nick folded his hands and raised his eyebrows, waiting.
“I’ve been following your work.” Amy went on, “I’ve, um, been studying it for a while now.”
“Well I appreciate that.” Nick laughed, “But I find it hard to believe. Not many people take an interest in such things.”
Amy frowned as she looked around Nick’s office. It was small and bare. He had a nicked shelf of worn out old books that was hardly full, a desk with a grimy keyboard and tube monitor for his computer and a tiny window.
“I’m surprised you’ve even heard of me, to be honest. I don’t think my paper stayed in print for very long.” He chuckled.
“There’s no need for your work.” Amy’s hand twitched with the realization of how significant that truly was.
“Well those are nicer words than I’ve heard before.” His mouth twisted.
“I didn’t mean-”
Nick shook his head, “Don’t worry about it.” He leaned back in his chair and smiled, “How can I help you?”
Amy took two steps over to Nick’s window and looked outside. She wasn’t sure how to pose her question. She couldn’t even explain what she wanted to herself.
Outside, Amy saw shining, colorful cars that were more than burnt out husks, proud buildings that stood tall and intact, and happy people who were still alive.
“What if everything you wrote in your paper is true?” Amy said. She turned and Nick leaned forward. At first he smiled as if he might laugh again but his eyes narrowed when he saw that Amy was serious.
“I mean it.” She said. “What do you think would happen to someone who…came back?”
“That’s outside the scope of my paper.”
“I know.” Amy kept her eyes on him. She knew Nick would not have stopped his studies even if his paper was laughed at, even if he never got the massive amounts of government money she knew he would need to complete his research and finish his device.
“Then any number of things could happen.” Nick sighed. “If I could prove my paper, and space-time can indeed be manipulated in the way I predict it can, and if we could allow someone to traverse it, then any number of things could happen.”
“What would happen to someone coming back from the past?” Amy put her hands on his desk.
Nick stared back at her curiously. It was the same look she had gotten from the people in the store and on the streets but with much more thought and consideration behind it.
“I’ve always believed that some part of such a traveler’s existence would have to be displaced. It’s unlikely they would experience any physical changes but they would have no recollection of what happened while they were gone. They would remember their time spent in the past instead.”
Amy nodded along, motioning for Nick to continue.
“That’s it.” He held his hands out and shook his head, “It would be like replacing any potential time spent in the present with memories of what was experienced in the past.”
“What if they changed something? Something big?”
“I don’t know if that’s possible…” Nick glanced at his open door, avoiding Amy’s gaze.
“What if it is? What do you think?”
“The same thing. However much time this person spent in the past, well, she would have that time displaced for her in the present. And with regards to any changes she made I suppose she would be the only person to remember the world as it was. Depending on how big the change was she might come back to a world completely different than the one she remembered.”
Amy took her hands off the side of Nick’s desk and stepped back.
“What was your name again?” He asked.
“I feel like I would know someone with questions such as these.” Nick pulled his chair up to his computer and started typing.
“I…” Amy steadied herself up on the bookshelf.
“Amy…Truman.” Nick gasped, “That’s right. I’ve seen you before on the news. It says right here, Amy Truman-Rothschild.” He looked back up at Amy, “You’re that woman who’s been missing.” He glanced back down at the computer screen, “For almost a year now.”
“What?” Amy moved around and squeezed in behind Nick’s chair. There was a picture of her smiling next to a man she didn’t recognize. He was tall and handsome with a bright face and sturdy features. Amy might have passed him on the street with only a glance but she appeared to be delighted in the picture with her arms wrapped around this strange man. Below the picture was a missing person report that said she had been missing for nine months now.
Amy grabbed a pen off Nick’s desk and began scribbling the home address it listed on her hand.
“What are you doing?” Nick asked.
“Stop.” Amy grabbed his hand where it hovered over a phone.
“I have to call the police,” Nick said, “Your husband…”
“Husband?” Amy let his hand go. Nick put the phone down but his eyes drifted back to the screen, to the man smiling in the picture.
Amy turned away and held her hands up to her face. She closed her eyes and breathed deep. Husband? She steadied herself and wiped away the beginnings of tears before turning back to Nick.
“Can you check something for me?” She asked.
“Search for Aliskan Gordi.”
Nick held his hands over the keyboard and looked back at Amy, confused.
“Just do it, please.”
He put the name in and the search turned up a number of results. Amy looked at the first link and read the subtext below it, “…2001-2048, assassinated by unknown agents…”
“That’s enough.” Amy stumbled away. She took one last gaze at Nick before fleeing out the door.
“Stop!” Nick glanced at his screen and then back to the doorway but Amy was gone.
Amy looked up from the blurry ink on her hand and matched the address she had written with the suburban home before her. She stared at the house for a while before holding up the newspaper that was dated, “July 6, 2055.” It was nine months since she had undertaken her mission. Nine months since she had gone back to the year 2048…
The house before her was lovely. The flowery yard was trimmed and a beautiful willow tree flourished over it. Amy could hear children playing not far down the sidewalk.
The drone of a distant lawnmower and the smell of fresh cut grass helped put her at ease and once Amy was sure she had stopped shaking she put the newspaper away. She stepped up to the front door and waited. Her fist wavered hesitantly where she held it but Amy took control of herself and knocked.
The man who opened the door didn’t manage to say hello. His mouth was open but he was clearly lost for words. He was the same man in the picture, although his handsome features were creased and hollow from when he had been smiling with Amy before. The man choked back a sob as his face lit up in the way it was in the picture. He held up a shaky hand before reaching it out to her.
“Amy?” A tear ran down his cheek.
He fell into her and Amy had never been so overcome with emotion since she had said good-bye to Nick before using his device. After Amy and her husband had stopped crying he stepped back.
“Honey.” He called back into the house, “Haley, sweetie. Come here.”
Amy fell to her knees and broke down once again when she saw the little girl standing down the hall.
“Mommy?” The girl rushed into Amy’s arms. She held her daughter tight and was filled with warmth.
Amy had no memory of this place but she knew she was home.
AUTHOR BIO: Scott Birrenkott currently resides in Wisconsin where he recently received his Juris Doctor from Marquette University Law School. Aside from reading and writing he enjoys playing board games and being with friends in his spare time. He has pet fish, a snail, and a frog too. His stories have also appeared in “Fiction Vortex.”
ILLUSTRATOR BIO: Eleanor Leonne Bennett is an internationally award winning artist. Her photography has been published in the Telegraph, The Guardian, BBC News Website and on the cover of books and magazines in the United states and Canada. See more of her photography at www.eleanorleonnebennett.com