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art by Steven R. Stewart

Only Backwards

Kenneth Kao is a member of Codex Writers Forum, a graduate of Orson Scott Card's Literary Boot Camp, and has published "Selfless" with DSF in the past. Besides treating patients during the day as a Chiropractor, he also jumps between buildings and flips over walls during the night as a Parkour instructor. His wife and his writing are his two biggest passions.
Mason leaned in to kiss Andrea. His first kiss ever. His heart pounded and he closed his eyes as her warm breath brushed his lips. He shivered, lifting frosty fingers from the cold porch, hesitating, not sure where to put them. Not on her, certainly.
But it didn't matter anymore because his lips were on hers. A flush of heat tingled his face, every inch of himself like lightening. She let out a soft moan and he leaned in again.
...Nothing.
He waited, leaning in more. Puckering his lips. He heard a mechanical whirl break through his thoughts. He opened his eyes.
And screamed.
He was naked on a cold metal table with a pile of clothes underneath him. A machine that looked like a gatling gun was pointed right at him with spidery needles angled in, surrounding him. The date was written on the ceiling in big red numbers.
But Andrea, she was no where to be seen. An iron door as thick as a bank's swung open and a woman rushed in. She looked about forty, but her hair was white like a grandmother's.
"Mason?" she gasped.
He stared at her, she seemed familiar. He covered himself awkwardly, pulling at the clothes under him. "Who are you?"
She paused, looked at the date on the ceiling with blue eyes, and didn't answer.
"Where am I?"
"You don't know," she said, like a statement.
"How did I get here? Where's Andrea?"
The machine's whirl quieted, the spidery appendages that stuck out at him like bayonets withdrew. She shuffled between them to reach him.
"Tell me the last thing you remember," she said.
He blushed, still uncomfortably exposed, he pulled the oversized pants on. "I was kissing my girlfriend."
She nodded, slowly. "You don't remember anything else after that."
"After?" he said. "Like… the future?"
"Yes," she said. Her face was deadpan, serious.
"We're in the future?" He felt a wave of panic. Andrea, he would never see Andrea again. Or his parents. His friends.
"Maybe," she said. She stepped around him, helping him sit up. He shivered, feeling colder than out on Andrea's porch. "Mason, your future self--my husband--invented a time machine. When he did, he discovered that since the future doesn't exist yet, the only way to travel through time is backwards. This," she waved her arms around them. "Is your machine."
Her husband. He married this woman in the future? "Then what happened? Why am I here?" his voice cracked.
"I think that you went back in time. But only your body, unlike what you thought would happen. While your body travelled backwards, time itself is in the same place. We rewound your biology."
"Then make me go back! Or forward!"
"I can't," she said. She sat by him and put an arm around him. "Like I said, your body can't travel forwards because as far as it knows, the future doesn't exist. Even if we could age it, your memories are gone forever."
Mason began crying. He didn't know what else to do, he felt so helpless. She made soothing sounds, but they didn't help. She sat with him patiently, unhurried, lovingly. The pity in her touch calmed him as he wept.
Why? Why was the most special moment in his life taken away from him?
Because. It was--no--it would be the most special moment in his entire life. That was why his future self had wanted to go back to that moment.
The clock in the ceiling moved forward a half-hour before Mason finally felt his sobs dry, his heart slow, his sorrows empty.
When he was done, she gathered him in her arms. "Don't worry," she said. "You won't be alone. I'll be here."
She tucked him into bed and held him. She kissed him on the cheek as gently as his mother did. When she did, the touch of her lips lifted the fog in his mind to realize that she was Andrea, just older. That's why she was so familiar. Though her cheeks weren't flushed or her brow as smooth, her glass-blue eyes were the same. And they were married. Their young love would have flourished.
She stayed there the entire night.
She wasn't there in the morning.
Mason woke to a high pitch scream. He rushed down to the time machine and saw--laying naked as he had been--Andrea.
Andrea stared at him. "Mason?" she said. "Where are we? What's happened?" Her hands moved to cover herself, clutching at clothes.
He flushed, looking away. He understood immediately what had happened. The woman really had been Andrea, just older. She'd used the time machine on herself, for him. For each other.
So that neither of them would be alone.
"I'm not sure," he said. "I think you, we, just went backwards in time." He walked forward and boldly put his arms around her, as older Andrea had. "But we'll figure it out together, I promise."
She let him hold her, even leaning in as she began crying.
On a cold porch Mason, forty years of age, and Andrea, about the same age, shared their first kiss for a second time, sitting on a pile of clothes too young for them.
"It worked, the time machine actually worked," Mason said.
Andrea smiled, and nodded.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, July 26th, 2011


Only Backwards was a weekend flash-story challenge on Codex Writer's Forum. I wanted to see how I could integrate nearly every trope and dilemma associated with time travel, yet also not cause any paradoxes. It was tough, especially in such a short piece, clarity for the reader being the huge obstacle. But this was the result... with a touch of irony.

- Kenneth S Kao

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