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You Can't Get There From Here

Rex Caleval lives in Regina, Canada, where he spent twenty years as an air traffic controller. Always an avid reader with story ideas popping into his head, he decided to try writing a few, and has been pleased to find that some people like them. His stories have been published by Every Day Fiction, 365 Tomorrows, Horror Tree, and Drunk Monkeys, among others.

Everyone said it wouldn't work. I proved them all wrong.
Then, I proved them all right.
A mathematical anomaly got published. The physics guys said time travel looked possible. Theoretically. They also said in practice it wasn't. But I was more motivated than they could know. I badgered everyone who might make it work, and eventually convinced Graham to try. He'd calculate, I'd engineer. Everything went into the project. Sold the house and car, slept in the lab, ate dirt-cheap ramen. Nothing else mattered.
I had to save her.
Gradually, we took theory into practice, working sixteen- or eighteen-hour days. We could even fine tune the jump much more than we'd expected. Graham figured out how; I didn't follow it. When it came to what a part needed to do, though, or how it fit in with the rest, I got it done. Finally, we finished.
All that was left was to try.
Our deal was that I would go. With our newfound precision, Graham set the machine to jump back five years, three months, and two days. The day of the accident. I got in. He pressed the button.
Suddenly, I was there. Or then. Whichever.
The afternoon sun shone outside. There was still time. I went to the patio at Ricky's, near where it was going to happen. She started across the street. I called her name from the crowd. She turned to look.
The truck sped by, and she went on her way.
There was already a me then, so staying would've been awkward. But according to Graham, once I returned, I'd converge with the me that had stayed, and we'd become one person. Why when I returned, but not when I jumped back? That was the math. He didn't know why.
Now, I think I do.
In any timeline, the past has happened. It's fixed, and can be followed back. If you were there, you still are. Adding another you won't change that. But the future isn't fixed. No timeline's been made. If you jump forward, there's no you yet, so you become the only one. No convergence, you just step into an empty space. That's why the math shows two in the past, but one in the future. The timeline forms around you.
But it won't be the one you came from. Found that out the hard way. I've looked around this emptiness for a long time, and there's no way to recharge the machine here. I'm stuck in this timeline for good.
The butterfly theory says one change ripples out and changes everything. Things can't be this different in barely five years, from one change. It's got to be chaos theory. Nothing happens the same way twice, even from the same start. Make the future happen again, it'll happen differently.
I think I'm right, but I realize I'll never know for sure. I only know two things for sure anymore.
Five years, three months, and two days ago, she was alive. And now, nobody is.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, February 1st, 2021
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