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art by Melissa Mead

Flipping the Switch

Michael's stories have appeared in AlienSkin Magazine and he is a regular contributor to Schlock Magazine. He lives with his wife, son, and two mischievous cats.

"…what could possibly go wrong?" Caruthers says, as he flips the switch.
My gut tightens and I hold my breath.
Nothing happens.
"Are you crazy?" Over the years working together, I've been close to hitting him a few times, but this is beyond even what I can endure. "You're a lunatic, get the hell out of here!"
"Oh come on, Bill" he says. "Don't be so high strung. Nothing happened anyway."
"And what if it had?" I reply, waving my hands. "Then what? We didn't even run the scanner to print out the results. You have to look before you leap! I can't work like this!"
That shuts him up. At least for a few seconds.
"I'm sorry, Bill. You're right. I should think before I act. But you said you'd worked out the settings and I got over excited." He offers his hand. "Truce?"
I shake it reluctantly. "Truce."
The strangest feeling comes over me--like I've lived this moment before. Me, shaking Caruthers's hand, him with that foolish grin. He shakes my hand exactly twice, a nice firm grip. He releases my hand, then turns around.
"I just had an intense déjà vu…" I say.
Caruthers laughs. "Well, isn't that ironic?"
I grunt and leave, my mind already occupied with what I have to look over.
Looking over the settings for what seems like the hundredth time, I sigh. "I'm going to the office to try and work out the kinks. I'll let you know when I have something."
"Sure. I'll stay here and make a few tweaks to the hardware."
My office is a small room with just enough space for my desk, a shelf full of student dissertations, and a wastepaper bin. The blinds are open--the sun is rising. Another night spent at the lab.
The photo of Isabelle and the kids stares at me reproachfully. I can't remember the last time I played catch with Jacob. And Heather's birthday is in a few weeks. Turning four already! Time is flying and my kids are growing up and I'm missing it all. Before I know it, they'll be adults and I'll have lost my chance to spend real time with them. Isabelle complains that I'm never home, and when I am, the pain in her eyes is too much to bear. She knows my time home never lasts long and that in a few hours I'll head back to the lab and disappear again.
For what? Working on a stupid pipe dream. A time machine. And I never have enough time. The irony is pathetic.
I put the photo down and study the settings. I promise myself that if I figure out the problem I'll go home.
We're so close to making this work, I know we are. The previous experiments were successful, or at least the result scans showed they were. We've sent bubbles of air back in time, creating vacuums. We've sent paperclips, and sticky-notes… macroscopic objects! But each time we try something heavier than a few grams, it fails. I can't understand why. The equations say it should work. But in practice, it doesn't.
I go over the settings again and again. It should work. I'm certain of it.
I rub my forehead. I've been looking at these equations for such a long time. Maybe I'm missing something.
The sun is setting. Another day gone by. Another missed opportunity to go home. I'll call Isabelle later. She'll understand. She always understands.
Back in the testing area, I show Caruthers my equations. His unceasing energy and enthusiasm amazes me. He never looks tired.
"I think it'll work," he says.
"So do I."
"Great. We'll set up a test."
"Can we do it another day?" I ask. "I want to go home and see the kids, spend some time with my wife. Relax."
"Oh come on," he says, walking towards the testing station. "Everything is set up. We can do the test now and you can go home right after."
I feel like hitting him. "Damn it, Caruthers. Can't you just wait until tomorrow?"
He powers up the station.
"Caruthers. I'm serious. I'm leaving."
Facing me, he smiles that foolish grin of his. "Oh come on… what could possibly go wrong?" Caruthers says, as he flips the switch.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Author Comments

This story came about after I had finished a longer story with a friend of mine about time travel. The ideas were still bouncing around in my head so I squeezed out the last bit of inspiration and came up with Flipping the Switch.

- Michael Vella
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