About Time, Too
Mum cocked her head. “Sorry, what was that?”
Somehow I managed to pull myself together and pulled from memory what I had worked out to say. Explaining I was a distant cousin looking to research my family tree, I managed to catch my mum’s interest.
“You look a lot like my husband, Mike, you know. What did you say your name was?”
I hadn’t introduced myself formally and I wondered what name to give. But before I could think too long, my name was out of my mouth. “Alex.”
“That’s so funny: I have a son called Alex. My name’s Jane.”
She invited me in and it was as easy as that. As soon as I entered the hall, I was swamped with nostalgia. The flowery wallpaper and fussy patterned carpet that we weren’t allowed to walk on in shoes pulled on my emotions. To me this was over thirty years ago, but I began to recall every tiny detail. Instinctively, I slipped my shoes off and kicked them over by the foot of the stairs with the others. Jane chuckled at this and we went into the living room. I took a seat in the armchair facing the great big block that was a television set. In the dull grey surface of the television glass, I saw my startled expression and tried to relax as Jane made me a tea.
She came back with china cups, the sort reserved for special guests. “Mike’s due home soon; he’ll know more about family history than me.” She looked away shyly, her face flushing. “You do look very familiar...”
I sipped my tea, savouring the remembered taste. “Our family have strong genes,” I said with a smile. My cup shook within my hand and I placed it on the low coffee table in front of me. We laughed at that, but inside I was terrified. How could I tell her I was really her son come back from the future? I avoided approaching the subject by going over what I remembered about my grandparents who were both still alive and well in this time. I could see Jane relax as she bought into my story. When I had enough courage, I asked where her son was.
“He’s out playing, but he’s due back for dinner. Would you like to join us?”
I accepted her offer straight away, wondering how I would feel sitting through a dinner with a family that had been dead to me for years. We chatted on for a while longer and I found myself totally relaxing. My mum – Jane – was easy to talk to and for the first time I realised just how beautiful she was. It was strange, being older than your own mum. I had to hide a smile, but Jane had noticed it.
“What’s so funny?” she asked, her voice good natured. “Am I a going on too much?”
I shook my head. “No, not at all: you just reminded me of my own mother for a moment.”
“Is that an insult or a compliment?”
“The best compliment I could give.”
The back door slammed shut and someone ran upstairs. Jane excused herself from me and stood. “That’s Alex, my son.” She called out for him to come downstairs and meet his distant cousin.
A few moments later a small boy with dark, knotted hair and freckles walked in with a sulky face, his A-Team t-shirt covered in dirt. He glared at me from under a long fringe of hair, and I froze, seeing my own blue eyes staring into what felt like my soul. With those calculating eyes, I wondered if he knew who I was and what I had come back to do.
“Hello, Alex,” I said, struggling to keep myself calm. “It’s really good to meet you.”
Alex shrugged. “Whatever.” He turned to
Jane. “Can I go play on my computer for a bit?”
Jane’s face creased into an angry frown. “Alex, that’s very rude when we have guests.”
Alex shot me a look that could kill. “He’s not my guest.” He turned and ran back upstairs, his feet hammering on the stairs. Then I saw a small spaniel bounding after him and my heart leapt. Spotty! I wanted to call him over, but somehow I restrained myself.
I clenched my bag where a gun was stuffed under my future clothes. There was no preparing me for the fact that I had an instant dislike for myself. In just those few words and looks, I had worked out that I was an arrogant git. But of course, I still am which was why I ended up here. For a second I considered going straight up to his room and blowing his brains out so I could get back to my own time. What a waste of an opportunity to be with my family, though. I had a week to enjoy this and I figured the more I got to know my arrogant little past self, the easier killing him would be.
My father came through the front door before I could dwell on things too long and he greeted me with the same warmth Jane had. His handshake was firm as he looked me in the eyes. “You look just like my brother,” he said, chuckling away to himself.
“Look at the time!” Jane shrilled. “I’d best get dinner on.”
Mike sat down on the sofa where I had memories of him laying stretched out asleep as I watched Doctor Who on a Saturday. As we chatted, I realised that I didn’t even know what day it was. It couldn’t be Sunday, because the town was busy and glancing at my watch, I saw that it was coming up to five. Alex had been out playing, so I knew there had been no school, so it must be Saturday. Mike’s eyes glanced at the television and I knew he was thinking about the football results that were due to come on.
“I won’t think it rude if you want to watch the results,” I said, my voice playfully low.
Mike smiled, jumped up and switched the television on. After a few moments, we had a picture, but Mike turned the volume down. The results were already being displayed. “You’re a good man, Alex,” he said, playfully punching my arm. Strange to have to wait for information to come to you like this, I mused, having all information at my fingertips. I could have probably pulled this information up on my Pad he had turned to the correct channel.
So we sat, chatting together as though we were old friends. Mike glanced at the telly from time to time for the football results and I settled back in my chair. The world and all the worries I carried drifted away from me and I felt truly at home. When Jane had us sat at the table for dinner, I was overcome with emotions and I struggled to stop the tears from flowing. I kept quiet for a while, making short responses to avoid bursting into tears. The child that I was sat across from me, glaring at me with suspicious eyes as though he knew. Oh, he looked a cunning one, this past self. Sat under the table was Spotty, staring up at me between my legs with eyes that registered confusion. With that look in an innocent dog’s eyes, I saw accusation, and inside I crumpled as I remembered those two hundred people who had died because of me. But that was a long time from now.
“So what’s new, Alex?” I asked brightly, once my emotions had come back under my control again. I went to pat Spotty, but he ran away and out the room.
Alex shrugged. “Who wants to know?”
Jane told Alex off for being rude and he turned and gave her a look of venom. “Can I go now?”
Before there was an answer, Alex headed from the table, throwing me a dirty look. In that instant I wanted to just grab my gun and blow him away. The only thing stopping me was the two adults who were the nicest people I had ever met. By carrying out my sentence and killing my child self, I would be destroying my parents. They did not deserve that.
Did those two hundred people deserve to die?
Destroy a few to save the many was my dilemma. Tell them who you are, a voice inside told me. As I was about to make the big reveal, Jane asked if I had a place to stay for the night. “No, I just arrived in town a few hours ago.”
Jane looked at Mike and silent words passed between them. She turned back to me. “Then you can stay here tonight; we have a spare room.”
“I couldn’t intrude on you.”
Jane laughed cheerily. “Nonsense, you’re family. I’ll go get your room ready.”
So the evening passed pleasantly. Both Jane and Mike quizzed me about my life and I had explained that I had been travelling around a lot. To divert them away from my secret, I asked them about their lives and I finally approached the subject of Alex.
“He’s a bit of a problem child,” Mike said, glancing quickly to Jane.
“But he’s a good boy most of the time,” Jane quickly added.
Had I been a problem child? My memory of these years was not unpleasant. Yes, I had been naughty on occasion, skipping school and staying out longer than I was supposed to. Then there was the incident with Spotty where I hadn’t listened to my parents and let him run off the lead in the street. That wasn’t for another five years, but I remember changing when Spotty died. I went inside myself, shutting everyone out. Just a stupid dog, but it really impacted on me. Perhaps that was why I never had another dog?
When the conversation began to dry up around nine, we put the television on. My eyes were drawn to an episode of some crime show I struggled to remember the name of. My parents didn’t think too much of it, and Jane started to yawn. Mike flicked between the four only channels available and around ten they announced they were going to bed. They showed me my room. I thanked them and stretched out on the bed, my head spinning.
Here I was in 1985, drifting asleep in the spare room of my parents house while a ten year old me slept soundly in the next room. It would be so easy to kill him now, while the entire house slept. Then I could disappear into the future without a past.
With my past erased, two hundred people and a dog would live. And being a ghost, only the agency would have knowledge of my existence. I would never be free again.
All I had to do was pull the trigger on a ten year old boy and blow his brains out.
Sitting up, I thought of another way to save everyone, including my past arrogant self.