Arthur’s Rewind

Pocket watch buried in sand - Illustration for time travel story Arthur's Rewind

A Science Fiction Story

The moon rose over the Nevada desert. The light danced across an enormous swimming pool shaped like Texas. Beyond the pool were three tennis courts and a twelve-car garage. Past the garage was the four-story guesthouse. Past the guesthouse was a small aircraft hangar with a Cessna Skyhawk and a Piper Cherokee. To the right of the guesthouse was the colossal main house, home of one of the world’s richest men.

Inside the house, scattered among the twenty bathrooms and thirty-five bedrooms, were a bowling alley, a forty-seat movie theater, a fully equipped gym and sauna, and a large, double staircase. At the top of the staircase was the master bedroom, and in the bed was Arthur Westinghouse. The house was once full of friends, but now he was alone in the dark, dying.

He was one of the richest men in history but he hadn’t worked a day out of the last seventy years. Unless you consider gambling to be work. He had won the lottery an astonishing sixteen times. He had been investigated repeatedly but the authorities never discovered any cheating or fraud. They couldn’t. There simply wasn’t any. Whether it was the lottery, horse races, or poker, it seemed he just couldn’t lose. That is, until he was diagnosed with cancer. He had once been over six feet tall, but age and disease had shrunken him, leaving him a paper-skinned mummy.

“They called you a psychic,” he said to himself, his face a ghost of a smile. “Not even close.” He fought the urge to sleep. Staring at the ceiling, he tried to recall his distant youth.

Pick a memory.

Focus on the scene.

Concentrate.

“Happy twenty-first, Arthur!” Rachel Westinghouse carried her son’s birthday cake into their cramped dining room, her eyes sparkling. Arthur’s friends cleared the dinner dishes to make room.

Turning slowly, Arthur took in his new surroundings. Or, rather, his old surroundings. The dining room barely fit the six-person table, the only nice piece of furniture in the tiny, one-bedroom apartment. In the living room, there was a broken stereo, a television with a homemade antenna, and a couch rescued from a curb on trash day. “I’m really here,” he thought, bouncing on his toes. “This has to be the biggest jump I’ve ever done, but it worked. I have half a century to spend any way I want!”

After cake, it was time for presents. He remembered the party well, so it was a struggle to act surprised. He was a history major, so his friends had pooled their money and gotten him a twelve-volume set of books on World War II. Rachel presented him with a new uniform for his Civil War reenactment group, special ordered from a “big and tall” costume shop. It had been designed after the uniform worn by Corporal Amos Westinghouse, his great grandfather the war hero.

The guests went home, and Arthur helped clean up. He said goodbye to his mother and climbed in his car, a sky blue hatchback with a bad rust problem. Somehow he remembered all the twists and turns of the roads even though he hadn’t driven them for decades. He found himself daydreaming, thinking back to when he first discovered his strange ability. It was six months earlier, or over a century to him.

He had studied all night at the campus library in preparation for his History of the Roman Empire final. Returning to the dorm, he only made it halfway across the street. A speeding Buick knocked him through the air and onto the pavement.

When he opened his eyes, he was lying in a hospital bed. A woman was in the room, making up the empty beds. She glanced behind her and gasped. “Oh! I’d better get someone!”

Eventually a nurse entered. She glanced at the chart attached to Arthur’s bed. “Good morning, Mr. Westinghouse,” she said. “It’s good to see you awake. You’ve been in a coma for three weeks.”

“Three weeks!” Arthur bolted upright, then instantly regretted it. His back hurt like hell. “What happened?”

“You were hit by a truck,” the nurse said. She made it sound so ordinary, as if it was something that happened to everyone, like a skinned knee or a paper cut.

“I missed my finals. I’ll lose my scholarship. I’ll have to leave school!” His mind leaped to the couch he slept on at home. He would have to leave the dorm, the first real bedroom he ever had.

“Like I said, you’re very lucky to be alive. Someone up there must like you. I have to see other patients right now, but a doctor will be in momentarily.”

He closed his eyes, shutting out the hospital room. The image of a lime green pickup truck rushed into his mind. “Why couldn’t I have looked for traffic? If only I had waited a few seconds more…”

He opened his eyes. He found himself looking at an old, brick building with ivy creeping up its side. “What the hell? I… Did that really just happen? Was I in the hospital? I’ve been up all night. I must have fallen asleep standing up or something. That’s it.” He walked to the corner and stepped into the street. A green truck sped past, inches from his face.

A few hours later, he finished his History of the Roman Empire final. He pressed “END” on the computer touchscreen and then “OK” when it asked if he was sure. Three seconds later, Arthur was looking at a mocking, red “D”.

“Oh, hell. That can’t be right…” He pressed the button on the touchscreen that allowed him to check his answers. Of course, the computer was right. “I should have just gone to bed. The sleep would have served me better than the cramming. Damn… I wish I could’ve seen these answers a few minutes before the exam!”

He closed his eyes, trying not to think about how the D would affect his grades for the semester. He imagined the professor standing in front of the class, saying “Is everybody ready? Begin! Arthur, you might want to do this with your eyes open.”

Laughter. Arthur opened his eyes. Professor Ledbetter and several students were looking at him. He stared down at his touchscreen. It read “Time Left: 59 minutes 45 seconds.”

“I just jumped back an hour,” he thought. “I saw the answers, and then I went back in time! Then that means… I really was in a coma. I jumped back three weeks somehow, and the next time around, the truck didn’t hit me. How in the hell am I doing this?”

He returned to the dorm and experimented with his new ability. He could send his current mind back to an earlier moment, but jumping ahead into the future seemed to be impossible. He could only move forward the same way as everyone else: aging.

Over the next several years, he made thousands of jumps, but he never figured out exactly how it worked. One of his professors claimed that the direction of time was irrelevant to physics, and that the movement of time from past to future was just an illusion of our perception. Perhaps being hit by the truck had changed his brain in such a way that he could perceive time in reverse, moving from the present into the past. Or perhaps the coma had damaged his mind, and all of this was just in his head.

The daydream finally came to an end. He had arrived at his dorm. He climbed the stairs to the fourth floor and headed to his room. His roommate, Rick, was sitting on the couch, watching television. “Hey, Art. Where’ve you been?”

“Um, I had to go home for something. Not important. Can I ask you something?”

Rick tapped the mute button on the remote. “Shoot.”

“If you could do anything you wanted, with no consequences at all, what would you do first?”

“I donno,” he shrugged. “Drugs? You could do anything illegal, really. Whatever seemed like the most fun at the time. Or sex without worrying about diseases. What about you?”

“The last couple of decades have been pretty dull. I could use some excitement. I think I’d like to rob a bank.”

“You’ve been bored since you were born?” Rick laughed. “Go be a bank robber, man. Let me know how that turns out.”

Three days later, he found a bank without any guards on duty. It was nine in the morning. The bank had just opened its doors and no customers had arrived yet. He grabbed his backpack and strolled inside. He chose the youngest teller, a redheaded woman in her mid-twenties. He handed her the bag and a piece of paper. “I’d like to make a withdrawal.”

The teller turned over the paper. Arthur had taken a red marker and scrawled, “I have a bomb. Fill the bag with cash and nobody has to die.” She gasped but immediately covered her mouth. Without a word, she opened her drawer and shoved bundles of hundreds into the bag. Her hands shaking, she passed the bag back to Arthur and watched as he strolled out the door. And then his backpack exploded.

“Shit!” He was covered in blue ink. In the distance he heard the sound of police sirens. “Cash is ruined. Oh well, try again!”

Pick a memory.

Focus on the scene.

Concentrate.

He opened his eyes. It was six minutes earlier, and he was walking into the bank again. This time he picked the oldest teller, a balding man in his early fifties. He handed the teller his bag and the note. “I’d like to make a withdrawal.”

The teller turned over the note and blanched. “My drawer is still empty!” he whispered. “Ms. Wilkenshire is always getting on me about getting my drawer ready on time. Let me go to the back and get some cash! It’ll just take a minute!”

“No, I can’t wait!” Arthur snapped.

The teller gestured to the redhead. “Then why don’t you go ask her?”

Arthur just shook his head. “This is always so easy in the movies…”

Close your eyes.

Pick a memory.

Focus on the scene.

Arthur found himself outside the bank once more. There was one teller he hadn’t tried, a young man in a black polo shirt. He walked into the bank and handed the teller the bag and the note. The teller turned over the note and smiled. “Thanks, man. You just made me famous!”

Arthur suddenly found himself on the floor. His jaw ached. The teller stood over him and whooped, pumping his fists in the air. “Call the cops! And the TV news! I just caught me a bank robber!”

Arthur closed his eyes. A moment later, and he was back in his car, in the bank parking lot. It was twenty minutes earlier. The punch hadn’t happened yet, but somehow, his face still hurt. He pulled out of the lot and headed back to the dorm.

Arthur plopped down in a beanbag chair. “I tried to rob a bank today. Didn’t work.”

“That’s understandable,” Rick said without looking up from his books. “Banks are pretty hard to rob. Even if you do it right, you’re not going to get more than five grand. Banks don’t have those giant bags of cash with dollar signs on them anymore. Why not rob an armored car? You could get a hundred grand, maybe more.”

He shook his head and sighed. “No, that won’t work. Armed guards. I really don’t feel like getting shot.”

“Not many people do.”

That night, Arthur drove downtown and found a bar with a poker game in the back room. After three hours of playing, jumping back a few minutes, and playing some more, he was ahead by six hundred dollars. Finally, he decided to go spend his money before one of the larger players accused him of cheating. He headed for the main room of the bar and found a table. Nursing a beer, he considered robbing the bartender, or possibly stealing an expensive bottle of scotch. The redhead from the bank walked in. He strolled over to her table. “Hey, do I know you?”

“Oh, that’s original,” she said, wrinkling her nose.

“No, it’s not a line.” He tried to picture the name that had been on the tag pinned to her blouse. “You’re Ginger, right?”

“No. Why is there never a bouncer around when you need one?”

“Gigi?”

“Ugh, no. If I tell you my name is Gina, will you go away?”

“That’s all I need to get started!” he laughed.

Close your eyes.

Pick a memory.

Focus on the scene.

Arthur walked up to the redhead’s table. “Hey, I know you! Gina, right? I used to work at the bank on Florida Street! Do you remember me?”

She winced in embarrassment. “I’m sorry, I don’t remember your name…”

He put his hands on the top of a chair and leaned in. “I can’t believe you don’t remember me! We went to that U2 concert together!”

She sighed. “That couldn’t have been me. I hate U2. Now leave me alone. I’m meeting some friends.”

He smiled down at her. “I’ll go away if you tell me your favorite band.”

“OK, fine. I like Green Day. Now get lost.”

Pick a memory.

Focus on the scene.

Arthur walked up to the redhead’s table. “Hey, you’re Gina, right? I used to work with you at the bank. We went to that Green Day concert together!”

She tilted her head to the side, like a dog trying to understand human language. “I, um, yeah! Hi! …How’ve you been?”

“It’s Greg! I can’t believe you don’t remember me.”

“Of course I remember you.” She forced a laugh. “I’m just playing. Have a seat.”

They talked for several hours. Arthur used his special talent to convince Gina that they’d been on four dates about a year ago. She apparently drank heavily enough to assume she’d simply forgotten. Once she was thoroughly tipsy, he offered her a ride home. He had even more to drink than her but, as he was a foot taller and fifty pounds heavier, he was stone sober.

She lived in Elm Park, a subdivision named after the trees that used to be there before they cleared the land to build bungalows. She climbed out of the car and leaned in to give him a kiss on the cheek. “Do you want to come in for some coffee?”

“Sure, coffee would be great.”

Once they were inside, he took her coat and purse, tossed them on the couch, and plopped down. She headed to the kitchen and started the kettle boiling. “She’s actually making coffee,” he thought. “It wasn’t an excuse to get me inside. Damn. I think it’s been twenty years since I’ve been with a woman. Well, I might be a bad bank robber, but I can certainly put this ability to other use.”

She brought in a tray with a pair of mugs and a plate of cookies. He sprang up from the couch, knocking the tray to the floor. “What the hell? What did you —” He pushed her down, tore open her blouse, and wrapped his hands around her neck.

“If you scream, I’ll kill you.”

He jumped back in time over and over, repeating the same depraved act until he developed a headache from the strain. The headache turned into a blinding migraine. Struggling violently, she freed her leg, ramming her knee into his crotch. He fell off of her, banging his head against a coffee table. Stars in his eyes, he struggled to his feet.

Gina pulled her purse from the couch and reached inside. “Try not to bleed on my carpet.” She pulled out a revolver and took aim.

Go back!

Go back!

Get the hell out of here! Go back!

He found himself in a clearing in the middle of an elm forest. Something exploded in the distance. Smoke rose behind the trees. Half a dozen men in blue military uniforms emerged from the trees, muskets at the ready. “Thunderation!” the Union sergeant shouted. “Thought you could flee the battle, you cowardly dog?”

Arthur put up his hands. “I don’t think they’re reenactors,” he thought. “Could it be? I jumped back before my own birth!” His hands were filthy and heavily calloused. His sleeves were gray with brass buttons. Apparently, he was wearing also wearing a military uniform, but his was for the wrong side. “I’m not a soldier!” he called out, his hands shaking. “I’m from the future! I accidentally sent my mind into the past! I think I’m inside my great grandfather’s body!”

The sergeant shook his head. “Be he coward or madman, cut him down where he stands!”

Pick a memory.

What memory?

You can’t remember someone else’s life!

He turned to run, but the bullets struck his back before he had taken three steps. For a brief moment, Corporal Amos Westinghouse was back in his own body. With a gasp, he was gone.

In this version of history, Corporal Westinghouse died instead of surrendering. He would never get to go home after the war, never get to marry, never have children. Arthur Westinghouse would never be born.

A hundred and fifty years later, Gina Thompson awoke from a nightmare. She climbed out of bed and made herself some coffee. The dream floated away like the steam from her mug. Today would be a good day.

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