Timely Persuasion - Online Edition - Chapter 18


18 And Life

    I read the ad at least five times in disbelief, then twice more just to make sure I understood it.  Although the little voice inside your head was a juvenile way of putting it, it certainly fit the bill.  Finally pulling my eyes away from the paper, I scanned the rest of the cars in the parking lot.  Not a single one had the same flyer.  I was taking an early lunch, so there wasn’t really much of a possibility that the others had already been found and disposed of.  The note had to be meant for me.

    I wondered if it might be a message from my future self.  That’s why I couldn’t see any other messages, because nobody else would be able to see this one.  Relieved, I drove to my lunch date with a new confidence that I may be getting out of this situation after all.

    That confidence was quickly shaken at the restaurant.  I set the paper next to my plate so I could continue pondering it during the meal unbeknownst to my companion. 

    “What’s this?” asked my gal as she immediately snatched it up and started reading.

    “You can see...I mean...you can read that?”

    “Yeah.  It’s in English,” she replied with a look of half sarcasm and half concern, not sure if I was joking or not.  “Sounds like a scam.”  She dropped it back onto the table, having already dismissed the contents.  “Why are you keeping it?  For a story?”

    “That’s right.  Figured it might make a good piece for a slow news day.  We’ve been having quite a few of those lately.”

    So it was just a regular, real note.  I should have known, as if it was a phantom object from another time it wouldn’t have stayed on the car or on the table but instead just passed right through to the ground as the bowling ball had.  My remedial grasp of time travel science was slip sliding away from me.  I guess I just wanted to believe older me was still out there.  But this could be just as good.  Maybe an even older older me had perfected sending objects through time?  I felt that I was grasping for something that wasn’t really there and reading too much into the note.  But what if I wasn’t?

    Playing devil’s advocate, what if this was more of an investigation than an experiment?  Maybe someone was trying to smoke out the person who caused these changes in time.  Was I just being paranoid?  The only major difference that would have any bearing on the world was the music we stole, but if someone were actually monitoring this they should have suspected that Dad was the culprit from the start.  No need to resort to the classifieds.  And what would a time patrol do if they couldn’t interact with anyone?  Recruit my older self to come back and arrest me?  And if he did stop me, wouldn’t he have done it before now so this never would have happened anyways?  I wasn’t sure if I should be worried, excited, or if it was just my imagination running away with me.

    The rest of our lunch date was uneventful.  Or at least it seemed that way to me, as I barely paid attention.  I wanted to get back to the office now that I had this new lead to follow.  If nothing else I could pad my bank account a bit by participating in the study, since my job as local interest beat reporter wasn’t making me a rich man.  I was slightly better off than before without any rent to pay, but living with Mom was starting to get to me even with the perks of free room and board.  Apparently this new me was a bit more of a mama’s boy than the real me.  This real me (if you could still call me that) wanted to move in with the redheaded girl, but I knew that being a mooch wasn’t the best approach.

    I rattled off a quick and abrupt farewell along with some excuse about a forgotten deadline and sped back to the office, dialing the number printed on the flyer from my cellphone as soon as I pulled out of the lot.  A recording picked up before the phone even rang once, instructing me to leave a name and address or phone number to which a questionnaire would be mailed or faxed to determine eligibility.  Mailed or faxed?  Hadn’t these guys ever heard of email?  I opted for fax so as to have some form of instant gratification, albeit about fifteen years out of date.

    Since I hadn’t yet learned the fax number at work, I had to track that down upon returning to the office.  I wasn’t even sure if we had a fax.  I asked the office manager, who immediately laughed at me and asked if I needed help with the Internet.  I told her I had a lead on a story and faxing was the only available contact method.  After a few more barbs she relented and gave me the info I needed, promising to bring the fax to my cubicle when it arrived.

    Forty minutes had passed since I had left the number on the recording, but there was still no sign of the office manager.  I emailed her and tried her extension, both without any luck.  Finally I went back to her end of the building to find four coworkers around her desk laughing. 

    “What’s so funny?” I asked upon entering.

    “We were following up on your lead,” someone said.  The comment spawned a deafening laugh track of obnoxious guffaws.

    I didn’t get the joke.  “Did my fax arrive?”

    More laughter.

    “Yeah, it’s here.  Does your lady know about this?”

    “We haven’t been able to figure out if it’s for a regular dating service or a mail order bride.”

    “What the hell are you guys talking about?  It’s a questionnaire for a psychology experiment.”  I grabbed the form off of the desk and stormed out of the room, leaving the peanut gallery behind.

    Back at my cube I flipped through the thick stack of papers hoping to find a clue as to its purpose.  At first perusal it offered no answers, only hundreds of questions on various topics.  The front page happened to be the ones about romance.  No wonder the busybodied lovemongers mistook it for a dating application.

    Hair color of the first person you kissed.  Hair color of the first person you remember kissing.  Have you ever been married?  Were you ever married in another life?  Estimated length of longest relationship in days.  Should it have been longer or shorter?  Where did you first make love?  etc, etc.

    Each page of questions was prefaced with instructions that multiple answers were okay, and to mark a special box next to any question if you weren’t absolutely certain of the answer.  There was also a passage advising that this was a serious study and fatuous answers would not be appreciated.  (Don’t worry; I didn’t know what fatuous meant either, but from the context I had an idea.)

    After the romance portion were similar sections on family, friends, and self-awareness, followed by a psychological profile that seemed to summarize and revisit some of the previous categories.  What was the coldest you’ve ever been?  Who was your second best friend in college?  What had the most positive impact on you in high school?  How often do you talk to yourself?  Do you feel that you’re conscience is strong or weak?  Have you ever personified your conscience?  Have you ever had an out of body experience?

    I answered the questions as best I could, but often had to mark the unsure box or all of the boxes when memories of my disparate lives overlapped.  As I pondered some of the options, I seemed to remember always having multiple memories of incidents when I was younger, even before the blinking started.  People always said I had an overactive imagination that never let the truth get in the way of a good story, but maybe they had it all wrong.  Everything was truth to me, though some truths couldn’t be validated by traditional means.  For all I knew I could have been through this time altering cycle innumerable times before.  I might have even been the one who wrote the questionnaire I’d just finished answering. 

    Part of me felt a sense of déjà vu that I was on a circular, Leonard Shelby type quest that repeated again and again, setting up clues for myself to find in each phase that would point back to another place (or time) and start the cycle anew.  Another part of me agreed with those who said my imagination had trouble separating fact from fiction.  The only thing I knew for sure was that there wasn’t anywhere in my wildest dreams that I could have invented everything that had happened since the injection.  It was all too real.