Title: The Thick Black Line
Genre/Word Count: Fiction/1,214
Notes: Part 3 of 3. (Part One here. Part Two here). Further notes (plus description of original, more Twilight Zone ending) here.
The Story So Far: In one timeline, we are introduced to Henry, a man whose future selves keep returning to the present to give him advice on how to live his life, specifically as pertains to dating one girl in particular, named Bridgett. All his other selves are fixated on her, except for one, whom Henry suspects is really violating the rules of time travel.
In another timeline, we see Bridgett, who is surprised by Henry when he sits at her table in a coffeehouse, reveals secrets about her life, claims to be her time traveling boyfriend, and then proceeds to break up with her.
We resume with Henry and the mysterious self
"What are you working on?" Older Henry looked over Henry's shoulder. Henry was sitting at the kitchen table, illuminated by a desk lamp, and amongst many stacks of papers and physics journals.
"I'm trying to prove that you exist," said Henry as he put down his pen and rubbed his eyes. "It's not going so well."
"I might be," said Older Henry, "a hallucination!" He tried to put the last two words in as spooky a voice as he could muster.
"I'm having a hard time finding out how you're not." He closed his notebook. "If you're going to show up from an alternative universe, it's only courteous that you also prove that alternative universes can exist."
"Why does it matter? What could it matter?"
"It matters," Henry stood up and walked to the dry erase board, "because it means the math is wrong. Because it could mean time travel is wrong." He turned on the overhead light. "It matters because –" Henry's voice died out as his eyes looked all over the figures written on the board. He stopped, stood up straight, and looked Older Henry. "It matters to me."
"If it matters to you, it should matter to me."
"That it doesn't," said Henry, "also bothers me."
"Look, I'm sure that we could find points of similarity between our dating. Remember Carrie?"
"First girl I asked out. Total disaster. She was a vegetarian and I took her to Uncle Ray's Rib Shack where not even the silverware is vegetarian."
"Okay," said Older Henry, "there's consistency. There's no alternative universe. I just come from an iteration of the future that you're not accustomed to. That's been the goal all along, improving the future through time travel. I never knew Bridgett, so clearly the future is better without her."
"It's Bridgett," said Henry, almost whining.
"It's Bridgett," said Henry, more forcefully.
"And so," Older Henry said as he rushed close to Henry, fast enough that Henry flinched back, "I repeat myself. So?"
"Without Bridgett," said Henry, "there is no time travel."
"I don't get it," Bridgett said.
"If it's any consolation," Henry said with a shrug, "I'm a bit lost myself."
"I mean, I've heard of people breaking up with someone out of fear they'd be dumped, but this is taking it a bit too far, don't you think?"
"I'm not dumping you," said Henry, a touch of offense in his voice. Bridgett looked at him coldly. "Okay, I can see how you'd think that. But it's ...". Henry slouched down with his elbows on the table. "I don't know how to not be creepy," he said, looking down at the lid of his coffee.
"Well, you're certainly doing a good job of it right now," Bridgett said. "What are you trying to accomplish? This seems an awful lot to spare yourself a broken heart later on."
"Is it?" Henry asked, still looking at his cup. He slowly raised his head and look at her with a slight smile. "Are you absolutely sure? I know you've been heartbroken, so if someone handed you the keys to something that could prevent that pain ...". Henry left the question drift off.
"But that doesn't explain you," said Bridgett. "That explains a future you, after the time machine. You, doing this, now, is sadistic."
"I am not being sadistic," Henry said and pointed a finger a Bridgett. "I am being selfish. There is a difference." Bridgett leaned across the table.
"Not from where I am," she said.
"Do you actually want this to happen? Do you get off on the idea of having someone obsessed with you? For years, I've had to put up with a parade of future selves inundating me with information as to how exactly to save our relationship. It's an unpleasant way to live, Bridgett. I dream of a future where I use time travel differently, and where I'm able to sleep without getting accosted by a future version of myself telling me which hotel to stay at when we go to Prague." For a moment, Bridgett said nothing.
"We go to Prague?"
"We go after you pass your Boards. If we're dating."
"I always wanted to go to Prague," Bridgett said and leaned back, "but you know that already."
"I do." There was a pause. Both sipped their coffee. Bridgett stood.
"Should we hug awkwardly and vow to remain friends, as you protest that it hurts you more than it hurt me?" Henry stood.
"I think we just shake hands and walk away." They did.
"The leading theory," said Henry, "is that you're not actually me, but my son or grandson." Older Henry tried to suppress an ever-widening smile. "It explains a lot. It explains the physical resemblance, why you don't dress like me, and why you might not know about Bridgett. After all," Henry was starting to catch Older Henry's smile, " I'm not the type to kiss and tell."
"There's really only one problem with that theory," said Older Henry.
"If true," Henry said as he stood up, and started to pace, "then you have no reason to lie about it. You'd come out and say it."
"There is one reason I would lie," said Older Henry, his eyes gleaming. He paused maliciously. "To maintain your belief that you're still operating in a closed loop of information; that you're still only talking to yourself. If you start talking to other people, that's when there's a risk of running off the thick black line of a singular universe and into a collapsed future." Henry stopped pacing, and looked at Older Henry. He then strode to the whiteboard and picked up a dry erase marker. Uncapping it, he stood looking at the mostly blank board.
"No," Henry said, still looking at the board, "that doesn't hold up. The universe doesn't use cartoon physics. I don't have to know the law of gravity for it to affect me." Henry turned around to face Older Henry. "Or us. If we're risking some sort of as-of-this-time-unnamed time weirdness, you're at a much greater peril. You're the one situated against the wave. I can't imagine that suicide by time travel is altogether nice way to go."
"Of course, I may know more than you do."
"I'm sure you do." Henry put away the marker and crossed his arms. "I'm sure you do. I'm sure you've figured out a lot more about time travel than I have, not that you'd tell me directly. I'm sure that, with whatever knowledge you had, you wouldn't intentionally imperil your own existence or anyone else's existence." Henry walked over to where Older Henry stood. "I'm also sure that you realize I have to look up just a bit to look you directly in the eye."
"Bridgett?" Bridgett shot up off the couch, tossing the book she was reading aside.
"Yes, I'm you," said Other Bridgett. "I am traveling – or, more accurately, projecting – through time. Listen: I need to talk to you about Henry."
- The Thick Black Line