The phone rang. There was no caller ID so I almost let it go to voice mail. I expected it to be a sales call. On a lark, I answered it just to give them a hard time about whatever unwanted items or service they were offering. Instead of that, I received a very sobering wake-up call.
“Get out of there immediately!”; The unknown caller blurted out. His out-of-breath delivery suggested an emotional investment in my well-being. I didn’t expect that at all.
The voice was oddly familiar but the severity of his barked command was too distracting for me to focus on the message itself. “Who IS this?”; I demanded tersely. The substance of the call, or how seriously I took it, depended wholeheartedly on finding out who was yelling at me.
“Never mind that! You don’t have time to get wrapped up in anything at the moment. I’ll explain later! Just leave the house IMMEDIATELY. Take the back door. NOW. Hurry!”
I wasn’t apt to take unsolicited advice or blind marching orders from random strangers but there was a genuine authority in his voice. I decided to take it seriously. I picked up my wallet and darted out the back door, just as I had been instructed. I felt foolish at the time but in hindsight, I’m glad I did.
As I was scurrying away from the back door like an obedient dog, it occurred to me that the whole thing might have been a clever ruse to get me out of the house. I was acting at the direction of an anonymous caller who conveniently ‘knew’ something was about to happen. Stranger still, he just happened to have my phone number and wanted to reach out and ‘warn’ me. I was about to dial the police with my suspicions when I heard sirens in the distance. I hadn’t even pressed send! Miraculously, the ‘cavalry’ was already on the way. At that instant, my phone buzzed in my hand again.
“What did I tell you? Keep walking and don’t stop! Very bad individuals are on the way to the house. You need to be as far away as possible when they arrive.”
“Are you in my house right now?”; I demanded. “The police are nearly there, buddy. You’d better clear out before they get inside.”
The caller snorted with impatience. “There’s about to be a huge explosion. Why would I be inside for that? You need to be prepared for it. Crouch down and shield your ears. I’m serious as a heart attack about this. Its not a joke. It’s going off in three, two, on…..” BOOM!
As if on queue, my house blew up with the dramatic violence of a blockbuster action movie. It was as if a bomb went off. The percussive wave knocked me to my knees from a quarter mile away. The sirens were blaring even louder than before and emergency vehicles were in the process of pulling up to the leveled ruins.
I saw the twisted, smoldering remnant of my once-beloved home; and contemplated what the hell had just happened. I‘d received a strange phone call. Against my better judgment I heeded the cryptic warning from it. Three minutes later my property was a charred crime scene. I was certain that I would be the prime suspect in its demise.
“My phone buzzed again but this time I completely ignored it. I was too dazed and stunned to answer. I began walking back home to identify myself to the authorities when the text tone dinged. In all of the confusion I couldn’t understand what I saw on the screen. It said the text came FROM my number, and was sent TO my number.
“Hey! Are you alright? Do NOT go back there. Do you hear me? Those people aren’t Fire & Rescue OR the police. Right now they are sifting through the wreckage looking to find your body. Here’s the thing, they want to confirm you died in the blast because it suits their purpose. If you show yourself, they will KILL YOU because they will know you didn’t die. Do you understand?”
Everything was crazy and upside down all of a sudden. Nothing made any sense. This mystery individual just popped into my life and three minutes later I was in the center of some violent espionage plot. No one would want to kill me. I knew that I wasn’t important enough to draw that sort of reaction from ANYONE. I’m just an average guy.
I immediately began to suspect the caller was actually the one trying to kill me. For fairly obvious reasons, I felt much safer revealing myself to dozens of emergency personnel congregated at my property than to the owner of the mystery voice on my phone who’d warned me. Was he really trying to convince me they were all in on some conspiracy and HE was my real ally? All the official vehicles and government uniforms made the idea seem preposterous.
The text dinged again. Unlike a phone call, it was harder to ignore.
“Stop walking toward them, now!”; he demanded in frustration. “If I was out to get you in ANY way, I would have just let you stay in the house, right? Trust me here. I have an important reason to protect you. Those people in the emergency suits do NOT have your best interests or welfare in mind. I do.”
The second text had the desired effect. I stopped dead in my tracks to weigh the pros and cons of his common sense explanation. He was absolutely right that I would be dead if he hadn’t warned me but I was still highly suspicious. I didn’t feel I was important enough to merit all of the danger and intrigue I was being subjected to. Maybe it was all a bizarre ruse to build trust in him. Some criminals do opposite things like that for the ‘long con’.
My phone rang again. “Get in the damn bushes! Now! They will see you, you dolt!”; He snarled furiously. It will take them hours to sift through all that smoking debris. That gives you time to get far away from them. That is if you don’t get yourself shot standing around with a huge target on your back a hundred yards from the scene. They want you D E A D. Have you ever seen paramedics or firemen wear guns in the job? Look at the guy in the fire suit standing in your driveway. He’s got an AK over his shoulder, right?”
I had to admit the caller was right about that. Sheepishly I muttered an affirmative. It definitely wasn’t standard uniform issue for EMS staff. I also realized they weren’t behaving like trained professionals looking to save lives. (Lives like mine.) They were acting very odd.
“Do you think it would be wise to enter a fire with a loaded rifle on your back? Noooo! They want to shoot you, dead! Trust me. Back away slowly and walk through the woods until you reach Dortmund road. Try to thumb a ride into town. You’ll have to sleep on a park bench or something until daylight. Then go to the branch bank across the street as soon as it opens. I’ve set aside a nest egg for you. Ask for Mort. He’ll know what to do.”
“Just who are you and why is all this happening to me?”; I demanded. There was a long pause on the line. My unknown informant fell quiet all of a sudden. The incredibly familiar cadence of his voice resonated in my head but I still couldn’t place him. It was driving me crazy. His identity was on the tip of my tongue but my brain just wouldn’t let me figure it out because the real truth defied logic.
“If you think about it a few minutes, I know you’ll be able to figure it out.”; He suggested. “Forget what’s possible and just spit out who you think I sound like.”; He coaxed.
“You sound… like me.”; I blurted out. “I know that’s a crazy thing to say and it can’t be true but it’s like hearing recordings of my own voice I’ve never heard before. We really have similar voices.”
“Why couldn’t I be you?”; The voice on the other end of the line inquired. It was such a preposterous question I struggled to even respond to it at first.
“Because I’m… ‘me’.”; I blurted out. “It goes without saying. Just drop the nonsense and tell me the truth. Who the hell are you?”
“I’m you, John. I really am. Just three days from your time. I know it’s hard to accept but it’s absolutely true. I was hesitant to tell you before because I didn’t want to confuse you when it was important that you get out of the house and run far away. I’ve already been through everything you are going through right now. Every single one of those things, but I didn’t have the benefit of someone to call and warn me of what was about to go down.
I, er ‘we’ kinda stumbled our way through it the first time but now both versions of us are trapped in a tethered time loop. We were never meant to escape that gas explosion alive. Those ‘people’ at the house are ‘cleaners’ who correct time line inconsistencies and screw ups. I got lucky. I thought it was raining and the car windows were down. Otherwise we wouldn’t be having this confusing conversation.”
“But they were not down.”; I corrected with marked skepticism. I heard the weather forecast on the radio on the way home and rolled them up before I ever went inside.”
“The ‘cleaners’ added that to your experience of those events.”; He clarified. “We were supposed to die in that explosion! When I managed to escape by spontaneously running outside to roll up the windows a moment before the gas line blew up, it messed up the schedule of events for them. ‘They’ added the newscast to your version of the circuit so you’d stay inside and die in the blast. It was a way for them to ‘correct’ things and end the fragmentation.”
I’d definitely be blown to pieces if I hadn’t followed his urgent insistence but none of what he said made any sense. How could an earlier version of myself warn me of anything? Just the thought made my head swim but I prodded him to explain anyway.
My future-self informant paused to recollect. “After I ran out to close the car windows, the house exploded and I was blown clear of the debris. I awoke behind the holly bushes after the ‘clean-up crew’ arrived. Just as I was about to call to them for help, I overheard one of them say they had to find and ‘finish me off’, quickly. That shut me up! My accidental survival caused a rift in time and they had to reset things to insure when the cycle started over, YOU stayed inside and died in the blast.”
I shuddered at his dreadful explanation. If he was telling the truth, (and I had no reason to doubt him anymore), then forces beyond ‘our’ comprehension wanted ‘us’ dead. Worse than that, it wasn’t even based on malice I might be able to negotiate with them over. It was all part of maintaining some pragmatic ‘grand design’. The whole gloomy scenario was devastating. The future ‘me’ continued.
“They knew I’d somehow survived because things were still ‘out of order’. It’s their job to put everything back on schedule.”
I asked ‘me’ how he’d managed to warn me through the hazy labyrinth of disjointed time loops.
“One of them was using this electric gizmo like a remote control to scan the area. At least that’s what it seemed like it was being using it for. They aren’t human, you know. They just have a humanoid appearance to blend in so they can ‘fix mistakes’. The gizmo holder set it down and I snatched it when he walked away. I figured it might prove useful. Then I booked it out of there. After fooling around with it for a while, I figured out how to interfere with details in the loop. No doubt they’d love to get it back. It can literally control small periods of time.”
I marveled at the baffling chain of events I was embroiled in. What a nightmarish train wreck. Internally I was proud of my future self for his initiative and ingenuity. He made me proud to be me but the knowledge ‘they’ wanted to erase of our mutual future filled me with a gnawing sense of fear and dread. I asked ‘future me’ (or F.M.) if we could meet in person to put ‘our’ collective heads together. He laughed at my naïveté.
“There’s only one of us. You know that, right? You’re just talking to a later version of yourself through a fragmented timeline portal which shouldn’t even be. The device I stole from them allows me to send you ‘a message in a bottle’, via our phone. It’s amazing I can call your version of our cell phone. It’s only a matter of time before they realize I have this thing and trace it back to me through some form of triangulation. I may lose contact with you. If so, you’re on your own. Good luck to, ummm… ‘earlier me’. They want to erase all of this as if it never was. They want to smooth out the wrinkle in time that I caused by getting one of us back into that house to die. I don’t know about you but I wasn’t ready to expire. We can fight this thing.”
“Do you really think so?”; I asked skeptically. “They have powers and knowledge that we do not possess. We didn’t even know ‘they’ exist until you stumbled upon them. How can any human expect to compete with beings carrying out a grand, unknown design to maintain the singular, unified timeline?”
“Great pep talk there, Junior.”; My future self deadpanned. “I feel so much better now.”
Both of us started laughing at our own unique sense of sarcasm.
“What if you used that device to go back to the day before the explosion and fix the gas leak so there would be no need for them to undo any of this? Maybe they’ll just allow us to carry on, once the preceding cause of the echo is eliminated.”
There was silence on the other end. For a moment I was afraid they’d gotten to him like he mentioned. Finally he spoke.
“That’s actually a very good idea. Why didn’t I think of that earlier?”
“Technically you just did.”; I offered. Both of us laughed again with an identical cadence you’d expect from two versions of the same person. He explained he was still figuring out how the device worked and how to operate it. I told him to stop making excuses and get to work.
“If I can figure out how to do that, and that’s a big ‘IF’, both of ‘us’ will be eliminated and an earlier version of ourselves will have to stop the gas leak, WITHOUT the benefit of the knowledge of all these things we just discussed. How can we steer an ‘even earlier us’ to save himself from their time line coverup?”
I thought long and hard about it. “Can you send a text message or email to ‘even earlier him’ warning that version of ourselves, without going into too much detail? You know as well as I do, ‘we’ would never accept it without evidence, or without actually living through the gas explosion and coming to terms with what’s really going on. It’s just got to be convincing enough that ‘he’ attends to the gas leak.”
‘F.M.’ was quiet again. “How about if I use the time displacement device to back up this whole conversation and record it on my phone? I’ll capture the conversation at the moment we start talking about it. From that recording, I can share the audio file with earlier us, and he can hear the full explanation for himself.”
I agreed it might work, especially if he explained the nature of things on the recording. In the end, the only thing that mattered was for ‘E.M.’ to have the gas leak fixed. It wouldn’t matter if he believed the rest of it. Especially since everything beyond that point would change after he followed through. I felt like it was a solid plan. It was then that ‘F.M.’ admitted we were already on the second cycle of the conversation and he’d gotten it all recorded that time. Both of us wished our (even earlier self) good luck in undoing the disaster we were tangled up in.
The following bizarre transcript was sent to me in a large audio file, via a link in an email. At first I thought it was a spoofing or phishing scam but when I sat down and listened to the recording, it absolutely sounded like me. (Both sides of the conversation.) It was uncanny, really.
Of course I didn’t believe a single word of the preposterous scenario. It was the stuff of utter lunacy but the sheer volume of effort it took to record long periods of my speaking voice to fabricate the complicated ‘testimony’ was staggering. I was thoroughly impressed by ‘their’ noteworthy effort. I wondered what end the hoaxers hoped to gain from such a complex forgery and crazy tale. It’s almost always about stealing someone’s money but I really don’t have much to steal.
Out of whimsical curiosity, I had my gas lines checked anyway. Now I’m certain it was only a ridiculous coincidence but they did find a serious gas leak in my oven! Had I not acted on that irrational curiosity, the natural gas company employee said it could have proven fatal. As a person of both logic and science however, I can tell you the bizarre email I received from ‘future self one’ was complete hogwash.
I know the recording is fabricated for unknown nefarious purposes but there’s still a small part of me that wonders about it. Do I owe ‘future self one’ (and two) my (literal) undying gratitude for detailing their efforts to save me from ‘them’? (Whoever they are).
I guess I’ll never know the real truth unless I see EMT’s nearby with AR’s over their shoulders.