|Remind me not to talk to myself when I meet me will I?|
Bobby Melton disliked the smell of cigarette smoke in the All-Nite Diner, but the bright light helped him when he was this tired. Chrome adorned the white enamel paint of every surface inside the old rail car and made the light even brighter. The wait staff was just the cook, and he was doing dishes in the back. Bobby's Fall-Semester Calculus quizzes were arrayed on the table in front of him in the booth; and he only had one more to study before he'd be ready for tomorrow's final exam. It was quieter here than in the dorm at 9:00 PM. Those liberal-arts pukes always had time to party. Couldn't really blame some of them, sweating out the draft lottery for Vietnam. Bobby had enlisted out of high school and finished his military tour just before the fighting really heated up. The door of the diner squeaked open and a couple of tie-dyed hippies came in, followed by an elderly gentleman wearing black. Something about the old guy caught his attention and Bobby gave him the once-over. Military-cut silver hair, black pants, a black western shirt over a little potbelly, and a pair of shiny western boots. Bobby smiled at the look of him and was startled when the man abruptly sat down in his booth and propped his elbows on the other side of Bobby's table. "Hello, Bobby," he said. "Have a seat, why doncha?" Bobby said raising an eyebrow. "Thanks, I just did." "You look familiar." "I ought to. You want to know why?" "Ok, why?" "Because I'm Robert Melton and I'm fifty-seven years old." The young Vietnam veteran looked at himself thirty-six years older and fifty pounds heavier and tried to think. "Ok, if you're me, what in the hell are you doing here?" "You see those two hippies that came in with me? They're time travelers from the next century, and they've brought me here for their godforsaken amusement. Remember all those science fiction stories we read back in high school? After I retired from engineering, I wrote a time travel story about a man going back to meet himself. Those two assholes read it after I died and decided I'd be the perfect candidate for their little experiment. They wanted to see if what I wrote would really happen." The old man had the whitened scar on his left forearm he got ripping tin off that old seed barn. Bobby remembered from the science fiction stories that bad things were supposed to happen if a time traveler ran into himself in an earlier time. "So, what happened in your story?" The old man gave Bobby a broad grin. "I told my younger self to 'follow his bliss' and be a writer from the start." The men stared at each other. "And?" "Every time I gave advice, it changed your life; and sitting right across the table from you, I began to change." "Is it working?" "You still want a family, don't you?" "Of course." "And you still want to make plenty of money to take good care of them don't you?" "Yes, I do." "So, you're still going to be an engineer anyway, right?" "Right." "In the story, I said to pick a wife from the journalism school, who would share your intellectual interests." The youth thought about his girlfriend from out in the sticks, majoring in home economics. "What about legs and a smile?" "Exactly," the old man said. "In the story, I said to eat vegetarian and get plenty of exercise to keep that flat stomach of yours." "I always thought that a belly was a fine thing for a man to have," the younger man grinned. The older gentleman smiled back and patted his belly, "Right. I only wrote that bullshit so those politically correct elitists in the publishing industry would print it." "What's 'politically correct'?" "That's every crackpot idea these dope-smoking, anti-war, liberal-arts slackers make up, to force on everybody else when they get older." The younger man laughed out loud. "You know I'd really like to bust some of them in the mouth," he said glancing at the time travelers. "Why do you suppose they chose to dress like that when they traveled to this time?" "Birds of a feather," the old man said, "but you're too smart to get yourself in that kind of trouble, just like me. Free speech; live and let live. No use hurting yourself just to spite some slackers." "If they just wouldn't take themselves so seriously. Every one I've met has got no sense of humor." The hippies were watching the old man and the youth with interest and consternation. The youth returned their gaze from two booth's away and said to the old man in a low voice, "This isn't turning out like they expected, is it?" "No, I don't think it is. No matter what happens in our lives we're always just becoming more like ourselves. It's like an arrow of destiny. I'm farther along the arrow's path of flight, but we're the same because we were fired from the same spot." "So what happens now?" "They say it's all pre-planned in time and space. Ten minutes in 2003 to talk me into it, ten minutes here, then back to 2003 to drop me off in my writing studio. They're expecting me to be a new man by now, like in my story. Out with the redneck, in with the tree-hugging, liberal-arts 'man of enlightenment.'" "Guess they're in for a surprise." "Worse. I think I may be the one in for a surprise. They were expecting me to change, and that could be bad for messing up the future they came from. Remember your science fiction? You can't go back and change things in your past, because it might make you cease to exist. I'm from their past. They probably picked me because they knew I was about to have a heart attack or something." "That's a hell of a note. You mean I'm only going to live to fifty-seven?" "You may not live 'till tomorrow, for all I know. Just stay frosty, soldier." With echoes of that parting phrase in his ears, young Bobby Melton watched his older self disappear into thin air.
x x xStories that end with the death of the narrator were once a common sci-fi/fantasy theme. I thought this one had a nice twist, though. How about you? -GM