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They’ll say you killed yourself, which isn’t exactly wrong. By now, your guest has recovered from his ordeals, and will pass all but the most thorough forensic examinations. He’s a little thinner, a little more drawn, but by the time you’re done, nobody will know the difference. Your future self has been living with you for months, at this point.
When he found you, he was a wreck. You almost didn’t recognize yourself. His hair was going gray, and he was starved nearly to the bone. His stared wildly, like he was being hunted. Not knowing what else to do, you took him home.
No matter how hard you pressed, your future self refused to tell you how or why he traveled back in time. He said it was too dangerous for you to know, and you believed him. After a few weeks of care and good eating, there was little difference between the two of you, save for his hair, and the scars, you dyed his hair and gave him some clothes. They were his anyway.
Your future self was afraid of the outside world, and refused to leave your house. He constantly surfed the news channels, even the one that you can’t stand. He signed you up for digital subscriptions to a dozen newspapers from around the world. You constantly changed the password on your laptop, but of course, it didn’t do any good. When you asked what he was looking for, he would get distant a distant look and go quiet. It was disturbing for you to watch terror and despair play across your own face. He told you it was safer if you didn’t know. Eventually you stopped asking questions.
He did give you missions, though. Tests to see how broadly he could influence the events that brought him here. Some missions were as simple as being in a certain place at a certain time, such as a coffee shop. Others were more involved, such as striking up a conversation with a stranger, whom your future self described perfectly. You had to say just the right things, the lines you and your future self practiced. You felt like an actor, without any idea of your role. One night, you drove out to the woods and dug up a heavy, iron-bound chest. It looked like an illustration from a fantasy novel. Your future self forbade you to open it. You dragged it five feet east and buried it again.
When, nothing happened after the first month of missions, your future self began to relax, but he still would tell you nothing of the future, or leave the house. He sent you on longer and more complicated jobs, requiring you to use up most of your time off from work. The missions never seemed dangerous, but they never made sense, either. You did them anyway, trusting that if anyone had your best interest at heart, it was your future self.
Your future self kept a journal, and one day your curiosity got the better of you, and you snuck a look at it while he was asleep. It was either written in shorthand, code, or both. You couldn’t make any headway with it. A week later, he burned the notebook without a word.
Even though he would tell you nothing about your fate or the future, you had long conversations with your future self. You reminisced about your shared past, and his perspective was enlightening. You also philosophized often about what would happen if the future really does diverge, or if it was already diverging. You saw less and less of your friends. It was too difficult to explain your increasingly odd behavior, or why your house was suddenly off limits.
After three months, he announces that the missions have been a success. You cheer and open a bottle of champagne and wait to see what will happen. Nothing does. Your future self announces he feels tired, and goes to your guest bedroom to rest. He never gets up again.
At first, you think it is another test or a mission. After a week, you ask him what is wrong. He doesn’t know himself. He tells you that the timeline has changed, he thinks. But now, something is missing. Your future self isn’t your future self anymore. You did it. But now the time he came from doesn’t exist anymore. He thought that he would fade away, or find himself back in his own time. It doesn’t work like that, apparently. He avoided fate, but now he has now future. He feels like a puppet with cut strings. You say this is a good thing, that he is free. He shakes his head, slowly. A puppet without strings can’t move on its own. He slides into a deep depression.
You do everything you can to cheer your future self up. You guess that you know him pretty well, after all. You screen your favorite movies, cook your favorite meals, and even invent elaborate schemes to get him outside. You suggest claiming he is your cousin from out of town, or find local masquerade events where he could hide his face. You even offer to let him go out as you. Your efforts are met with stony silence. You visit a doctor and claim his symptoms, scoring a little vial of medicine. Since you share the same DNA, you don’t think it counts as fraud. He flushes them down the toilet while you’re at work.
That night, he asks you to kill him.
He says that he found a new rule to the laws of the universe. He expected to fade away, or to find himself back at the point where he left, or even to have never come back in time at all. He expected that time would either make room for him or erase him, but it did neither.
Instead he finds himself trapped without fate, unable to do anything at all. Any further attempt to change his circumstances falters before he can accomplish it. Otherwise he would have simply killed himself. Unable to go back and unable to make a life for himself, the only thing he can do is die, but even that needs another hand.
At first, you refuse. He keeps after you, showing interest in something for the first time in weeks. Eventually, offers you a reward for all of this: A second notebook filled with information from his future: Stock tips, world-series winners, schematics for inventions that will make you a very rich man. He says that he’ll burn this one too, unless you kill him. This time, you agree, and tell yourself it is about mercy, not money. You almost believe it.
The assisted suicide doesn’t go as planned. It’s harder to kill anyone than you expected, and the trauma of watching yourself die is nearly more than you can take. Eventually, you shoot your future self, and let the gun drop. You had a plan to deal with the body, but seeing your own corpse isn’t something you are prepared for. You take the notebook and run. At a truck stop halfway across the country, you buy a newspaper and read your own obituary. As the murder investigation goes on unsolved, you start a new life for yourself.
It will be harder than you think. You’ll lose all your savings trying to get a new identity, and soon you’ll be broke and without a social security card. You’ll manage to get a job under the table, but never make quite enough to survive. You’ll console yourself that you still have the notebook. As long as you’re careful, and don’t draw attention to yourself, you should be fine.
But the notebook won’t work. None of the predictions will come true. At first they will be similar. You’ll make a little bit of money. The stocks you pick will do well, but never reach their predicted heights. The sports scores will be close but never quite correct. No one will be interested in your ‘inventions,’ or they simply don’t work quite as described.
Eventually, the notebook will fail you entirely. At first you’ll blame chaos, the thousand tiny variables that somehow changed when your future self went back in time. Then, you’ll suspect that your future self made a mistake. This will turn into a suspicion that he gave you false information on purpose. Before long, you’ll be certain that the figures in the notebook change when you aren’t looking. You’ll become obsessed with it, spending all day flipping through pages, rarely eating, never sleeping. Eventually you’ll lose your job washing dishes. You’ll fall behind on your debts, which will lead to some very unpleasant encounters.
Finally, you’ll discover the hidden pocket on the back cover, and pull out the single piece of paper inside. At first, the schematics and equations won’t make any sense to you, but the more you stare at them, the more sense they will make. You won’t be able to afford the materials and exotic components, but you’ll do what you have to, and eventually your time machine will be complete. You’ll look at your drawn face and gray hair in the mirror, and you will know what you have to do.
End

Cover photo by JLS Photography, shared under a Creative Commons License.

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