“I didn’t want to be the president of my local Sons of Norway, let alone the entire country.” He still had a look of amusement on his face, like it was all a joke, and at any moment one of us was going to own up to it.

Harry peered closer at the old man. Our eyes had taken long hours to adjust to the dim light in the chamber, but that didn’t mean we could see with any kind of clarity. It was like trying to make out details by glowstick. “It sure does look like him,” the trashman admitted, “though a bit younger than he does on the TV.”

“A bit?” asked Shelly. “Try a lot older. Eight years in office will do that to you.”

“Eight?” Harry asked. “He’s only served the first two years, and there’s no way he’s getting re-elected.”

“But I’m not even the president,” the older man said. “I keep telling you people. I’m just a governor, and quite happy to retire as one.”

Eli held up a hand, the other pinching the bridge of his nose. He looked like he was holding in a sneeze. And like one, he exploded with an idea. “We’re from different times.”

“What?” the seven other strangers asked, in perfect unison. Shelly giggled.

“Look, it’s the only thing that makes sense,” Eli said. “We all have slightly different versions of current events. What else could explain it? Harry, what’s today’s date?”

“Oh, that’s easy. It’s—” he trailed off, wincing in sudden pain. He opened his mouth to speak and doubled over in agony.

“What the hell?” Shelly asked.

“It’s—” Stanley began, then his words twisted into a cry of agony.

Eli hummed. “It would appear that we’re not meant to communicate that bit of information.”

“Fuck that,” Shelly said, and held her hands up. “Look here, I’ll do the digits on my fingers. Ready?” she asked. The ones not reeling in pain nodded. Shelly splayed out all ten fingers with wiry rigidity.

“Ten? October?” Eli asked.

Shelly shook her head, and it was clear she was in some discomfort. “That’s not what I meant to show.” She closed her hands again, then her eyes, and slowly opened them, again displaying ten outstretched fingers.


“No, God damn it. I’m trying to show—” and she shrieked as she fell to the cold stone floor of the chamber, her ponytailed head clutched in her outstretched palms like a basketball.

“It looks like we’re really not meant to communicate the exact times,” Eli said.

“Is that your scientific analysis, doctor?” Harry asked, shaking his head. “I’d say the experiment was a smashing success.”

2015.04.02 – 2023.10.24

Next: Atonement (298)
Previous: Lame (296)