Things will get better.

I want a time travel story like the thing that just hit me. I don’t want travel to dinosaur times or prehistoric man, although that would be cool. I don’t want splintering realities or historical hijinks or grandfather paradoxes. I want a book to appear, dog-eared, in the bottom of eighth-grade-me’s backpack. I want him to see his name on the cover and to wonder about what might be inside, what might be in store. I want him to sit, cross-legged on the floor in late-night TV glow, turning pages, reading his own words from fifteen years in the future. I want him to fall asleep with that story flickering through his mind’s projector, and a repeat message like a nightly mantra:

Things will get better.

Things will get better.

Things will get better.

They already have.

Feral

I always said I might as well have been raised by wolves, with that practiced smile meant to shut down further inquiries, smile hiding sadness, no crows feet next to eyes so you can tell it isn’t real.

Not a sob story, really, not anymore. Just day after day of pushing through pain, learning to accept it, even embrace it, in a fucked up way, convincing yourself that this hole in your chest builds character.

It gave my brain a way of darting through temporal realities, flying backward and forward through time and space, because if you’re sequencing the genesis of man among hominins or imagining our ultimate end in the (hopefully distant) future, then you rarely notice the horrible reality you’re living in right now.

It makes you open to possibility, being feral does.

I’ve tried fasting, gorging, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, walking 37 miles at a stretch, biking all day, eating an entire pumpkin pie, drinking nine or ten beers in a row; water fasts and exsanguination and meds and meditation and breathing. I’ve tried breathing.

And now I’m here, scribbling words on a page that will be transferred to a screen, used to have to do this at the public library for the internet access and working AC, but now I’m at my desk, before work, with little more than the glow of my screen and the mechanical hum of the office, before anyone else gets here. Now I know comfort.

And you feel guilty for the most ridiculous things. Guilty for hot water, and an ice dispenser, and a coffee maker, guilty for no longer having to scrape by but instead, somehow, miraculously, being allowed to thrive. A survivor’s guilt that marks the death of souls and not bodies, others just like you from that same neighborhood, feral kids who never found a way out of the pit they were left in, could only make that pit as comfortable as possible–a home that became a grave. There are these facts, these realities.

So I walk. I move. I write and I draw and I read and I try to make sense out of this crucible childhood I was given, this tremendous heat I survived and escaped, that I can now chart and describe for others. I don’t want to go over the same ground, God knows I don’t ever want to be there again, but there’s a power-taking in the naming of it. If it can be seen clearly, with a light shining into even its darkest corners, then it need not have power over you. Over me, over us.

I read this over, think of deleting it but don’t. I click submit, because there was never any other choice but this.

CHRONOVISION

Dusty light filtered in through a musty old attic window, floorboards creaking as Jeremy Umbridge surveyed the room. It had been a while since he’d been up here, ten years to be exact. Back then he’d often sneak off from his grandpa in his never-ending quest to find a Nazi scalp or some other undoubtedly cool thing gramps must’ve brought back from the war.

But Jeremy was older now, and his grandfather had just quietly passed away. He didn’t go down in a blaze of gunfire against some hidden neo-Nazi uprising he just knew would spring up any day now, but hey, we can’t have it all.

As the rest of Jeremy’s family was either infirm or faking as much to get out of it, Jeremy was left with the task of sorting through whatever his grandfather hadn’t put in the will. Decades-old newspapers sat alongside boxes of old photographs, nothing out of the ordinary.

But then Jeremy saw it. Over in the corner of the attic, a heavy-looking wooden box practically beckoned him over, “FRAGILE” emblazoned on every square inch of the thing. The nails holding the box together were thankfully rusted out from over the years, making the whole task much easier.

Inside, a rather unimposing little device greeted him. It resembled an old television in every way. Jeremy pulled it out with great care and set it down at once. There was no other paperwork in the box, no instructions. Where a brand name might be on the device, instead was plastered “CHRONOVISION” in lettering that clearly hadn’t been considered cutting edge since the ‘50s.

The usual dials rested on the front of the thing, for changing the channel as well as the date. Wait, was that the date? Sure enough, upon closer inspection there was a dial where one could set the month, another for the day of said month, and four separate dials that each ranged from 0-9 for setting a year. The last dial simply read, “SIGNAL.” That dial’s options were “ME” and “OTHER.” Checking each dial, Jeremy was shocked to see that the dial was already set to “February 14, 1951, me.”

After some scrambling and much worrying that his foot might slip through the rickety floor, Jeremy wrangled the chronovision’s power cord over to a nearby outlet. As he plugged it in, he was knocked onto his posterior by the force of an electrical surge. Shocked, literally and otherwise, Jeremy got back to his feet and switched the chronovision on.

When he did, he was immediately greeted to the sight of: absolutely nothing. No sound came out of the thing either. He smacked the side of the screen until coming to his senses. The dial was set to “ME.” He wasn’t alive on Valentine’s Day in 1951, nor any other day in that year for that matter. After adjusting it to “OTHER,” an image gradually faded in. The screen showed Jeremy’s grandfather as a younger man, aggressively old-timey making out with what was unmistakably a younger version of Jeremy’s grandmother. The sight of it all froze the young man in terror, which gave the image of his grandmother just enough time to whisper sweet nothings to his granddad.

“Out of the skivvies, sailor, it’s whoopee time.”

After yelling as if being brutally attacked by a chainsaw, Jeremy violently swiped at the device’s dials. He breathed a sigh of relief as that harrowing image was thankfully wiped from the screen. In its place was a naked Winston Churchill feeding instructions to an aide while chomping down on a cigar.

“What the fuck, history?!”

Jeremy turned the device off at once, as disturbed as he was annoyed. He sat there alone in the mustiness of the asbestos-lined attic, thinking through the implications of this machine while trying to force what he saw out of his mind before it had the chance to scar him for life.

Soon enough, curiosity had gotten the better of him. He played with the dials, set it to today’s date. He switched the signal to “ME” and turned the chronovision back on. Jeremy’s eyes went wide as he looked on at a small Jeremy that looked into another chronovision, which in turn bore the image of a smaller Jeremy staring at his own chronovision, which… alright, you get the idea.

Anyway, after much miming and checking to see if each Jeremy would move exactly as he did, Jeremy began to get restless. He moved to turn the dial. But before he could, the chronovision had turned it for him, twenty years into the future. The older Jeremy was pudgy, haggard, and conspicuously balding despite his attempts at a comb-over.

Panicking, Jeremy began to look back in time, searching desperately for the trigger to each of his problems. As time went on, however, the musty old attic was no longer an ideal auditorium. He took the chronovision home and devoted his time to scouring what he saw for any clues as to how to make his life perfect.

His day job was no longer ideal, as it distracted too much from his chronovision. A part-time gig at the local supermarket wasn’t glamorous, but it gave him the time he needed. His friends and family were quite obviously possible triggers, so he did what he had to do and discarded them from his life.

But try as he might, years and years after finding the damn chronovision, Jeremy Umbridge still couldn’t find the source of his problems. Just as this frustrating thought crossed his mind, the power suddenly went off. So the electric company wasn’t bluffing after all. His sole focus in life now disabled, Jeremy looked around his house blankly. His eyes finally met something he hadn’t looked into for nearly two decades: a mirror. In it, he was pudgy, haggard, and conspicuously balding despite his attempts at a comb-over.

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LITTLE BUGGER

Dink. Dink.

On and on it went like that all night, incessant. The alarm clock on Mr. Canbury’s nightstand glowed just as annoyingly, it proclaimed “3:42.” Now, while Joseph Canbury of Eddington wasn’t exactly your model employee, he also wasn’t one to shirk a good night’s sleep if he could help it.

He rose from his bed quietly, or as quietly as a pudgy, uncoordinated accountant such as himself could manage, anyway. His foot tentatively made contact with the floor. As it did, it just so happened to hit the only floorboard in the entire room that was prone to squeaking, a fact that his wife was immediately made aware of as she stirred from her sleep.

Dink. Dink.

Mr. Canbury was frozen, a deer in headlights as his wife seemed to stare right at him. But just as quickly, she laughed at a joke some dream person made and muttered her retort before lapsing into the usual snore-punctuated breathing one might expect from your average sleeper.

The coast clear, Mr. Canbury made his way toward the source of the mysterious noise. Was it the bathroom? No, the noise was most definitely coming from somewhere deeper within the house. The den? No, this noise was tinny, a sort of ding against metal. And as far as Mr. Canbury knew, there was nothing in the den that could create that particular noise.

Dink. Dink.

Mr. Canbury perked up at this last one, hot on the trail. Satisfied with his exemplary detective skills, he crept over to the noise’s true source: the kitchen. His knees, ankles, and coccyx all cracked as he crouched down until he was at face-level with the cupboard under his sink. He paused, patient.

Dink. Dink.

Like a magician pulling free a drape from his bisected assistant, Mr. Canbury flung the cupboard wide open. What he saw wasn’t quite worthy of a “voila,” however. Pipe cleaner, trash bags, a large wrench. Nothing out of the ordinary. Mr. Canbury felt quite disappointed. Gipped even.

Dink. Dink.

But just like that, he was back in action. He tapped one of the sink’s pipes, the one the noise just came from. Seconds passed, practically minutes. Finally:

Dink. Dink.

Excited, Mr. Canbury rapped again on the pipe. Whatever was inside of it responded just as soon, mimicking each tap flawlessly.

“What are you, you little bugger?”

The thing inside the pipe either didn’t hear Mr. Canbury’s question or was protesting the indignity of being called a little bugger. Either way, it stopped responding to all forms of communication the pudgy man tried to muster.

“Play coy, will you?”

Mr. Canbury grabbed his wrench and set himself to removing the offending pipe. But just as he did, a deafening eruption ripped through the air. A massive hole cracked open in the floor of the cupboard. Mr. Canbury was sucked into it immediately, as if pulled by the world’s strongest vacuum. And just like that, the hole closed back up as if nothing had happened.

Wind rushed powerfully as dazzling colors and lights whizzed past Mr. Canbury’s face. He was falling at a speed that was altogether excessive. And then, when it seemed as if he couldn’t quite take it any longer, it stopped. He fell with a cracking thud. Where, he did not know. It was pitch black. He stood up and lumbered forward with his hands outstretched, Frankenstein-esque.

Before long, he stopped dead in his tracks. There was a wall of some sort, that was for sure. But what exactly was it made of? Brick? No, it was much too cold and smooth to be brick. Stone? No, the little sort of dinging noise it made when tapped said otherwise. For once, Mr. Canbury’s cleverness had reached its limit. Frustrated, he rapped loudly on the wall.

Dink. Dink.

Metal! That’s what it was, it had to be! Quite satisfied with his reclaimed cleverness, Mr. Canbury didn’t realize just how incredibly similar the sound of his knock had been to what he heard down in his very own kitchen. Nor did he expect the response that he was to receive just seconds later from what seemed like a giant on the other end of the wall:

BOOM. BOOM.

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