I’m taking a creative writing class this semester to shake things up a bit and it has been a lot of fun. I wrote the following piece for the class and thought I’d share because I haven’t posted any fiction on my blog in a little while.
We had just finished reading Ocean Vuong’s novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. If you haven’t read this book, I highly suggest it. It is an incredibly beautiful piece of literature. The prompt for the following piece was to take a line from the book that we liked and use it for the first line of a short story. The line I chose was “I’m not telling you a story so much as a shipwreck.” Since the novel takes the form of a letter to the main character’s mother, I thought it fitting to do the same… but in a pretty different way. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.
I’m not telling you a story so much as a shipwreck.
I fear the worst, and if there is anyone that deserves to know what’s coming, it’s you.
I suppose I should start at the beginning. The first time I traveled through time, I was so overwhelmed with the fact that it had happened that I didn’t really get a chance to take advantage of the opportunity. My machine – which I’ve affectionately named The Device – can only jump just less than 6 days into the future, stays there for just over 21 minutes, then falls back through time to the moment it left. Having wasted a trip checking and rechecking the date to verify that I had actually made it would be fine if it wasn’t for the other constraint of the Device: due to the fact that there are only 3 quarks in a baryon and some other reasons too lengthy to get into, the machine can only make this trip 3 times.
I can picture the incredulity on your face. I assure you, it is true. I have made this trip, I have done it 3 times, and the Device sits lifeless in the corner of my study, its core burned out, never to budge again. True, I could construct another, but it would take another four years due to the slow timeline of the distillation process. Four years that I do not believe we have.
This reminds me, mother, I should probably come clean: I was not called in to the office the last four Christmases, as I said. I was working on the core for the Device. I am sorry for lying to you and prioritizing my work over time with you. I see now that this was a mistake.
The second trip, I was ready. You might not think that much can be done with 21 minutes and 17.93 seconds, especially when you can only jump 5.92 days into the future, but you’d be surprised what can be accomplished with a little planning. I know you taught me that gambling was a sign of weakness, but I fear that I have another confession to make. That house I bought you, the car, the weekly fancy fruit baskets were not the result of my salary. I suspect you knew that though. How could they have been. In fact, they (and much more wealth) are the results of five days of bets and investments that some have called “incredibly lucky.” It doesn’t take long to look up which stocks shot up the fastest in a weekly period, nor to write down who won major sporting events and horse races. A week of sure things has made me a small fortune that I haven’t known how to tell you about until now. Is it still a sign of weakness, mom? Is it weakness if it wasn’t really gambling?
Another thing you taught me was to settle for what I have and not to strive for more than I need. This, I fear, mother, is another lesson that I ignored. My small fortune should have been enough, but I found that there’s no such thing as enough money. If I had hundreds of millions instead of hundreds of thousands, imagine the good I could do. Is it being unthankful for what I have to strive for more? Is it selfish if I intend to use much of it to help others?
Well, that’s 2 of 3 trips down. The thing about money, is that it’s easier to make money if you have money to begin with. One more trip to the future to gather information and one more week of sure bets would certainly put me under the gaze of the IRS, but it should also allow me to grow what I have by at least a hundred, maybe a thousand times. That’s what I thought, at least.
I got there to find that nothing remained.
Just that small jump of a handful of days put me in a desolate wasteland of smoldering soil. The air was so thick with smoke that I spent most of my 21 minutes in the future, doubled over, coughing as if my body were trying to eject my very lungs.
I should have been near downtown, but as far as I could see through the smoke, there was nothing but ash. No buildings, no trees, no rubble, no people remained. It’s possible that whatever happened was local, as one can’t travel very far in a third of an hour while unable to pull in a full breath. I don’t think so, though.
My hair has been falling away in clumps and I’ve been nauseous and weak since getting back. Signs of radiation sickness.
I’ve spent the last 3 days – between bouts of vomiting – trying to determine what’s coming and trying to stop it, but there’s only so much I can do, not knowing what it is. This morning, too weak to stand, I was taken to the hospital, where I now lay confined and quarantined while they run their tests and ignore my input as the nonsense of a sick and fevered mind.
I can’t stop thinking about all the time I spent working that I should have spent with you, now that I can’t remedy it. I’m sorry, mother. I felt the need to tell you, to get it off my chest, but pray that the letter is too late. I pray you don’t have to spend your last days awaiting the end.
Your son, Dr. Robert Beckmer