The fly hovered around for a few moments and then swooped down on the lump of chewing gum stuck on that old wall. It still had some sweetness, and the fruity smell was too hard to resist for the insect. It began feeling around for the sugariness and that was when the lizard came out of a nearby crack in the wall and gobbled the fly up. A cat was lurking around observing the events happening on the wall. It pounced upon the lizard. Neither the cat nor the dog that was spying on that cat knew that this would set off a chain of tragic events. The dog attacked the cat. The cat’s owner came to its rescue and struck the dog with the nearest stick he could find. The dog’s owner wasn’t far away. An argument ensued. A fight started. Within minutes the whole neighbourhood was divided into cat people and dog people. Thus began the riot.
The night was cold and there was a hint of snow for the winter was not over yet.
The man in leather jacket paced nervously towards the old building. He kept looking back and for a moment saw the shadow lurking among the shadows. His worst fear was confirmed. Someone was following him, ever since he got down at the station. He clenched on to the suitcase.
The pub was as usual deserted for that ungodly hour. But the barkeep was still working, cleaning up for the day. He sighed as the last customer, our man walked in and sat on a bar stool. He ordered a strong drink. The barkeep kept it on the counter and the man gulped it down in an instant. He ordered another one.
As the barkeep was preparing the drink, the man dug out a few currency notes from his jacket pocket, “Could you please do me a favour?”
The barkeep placed the drink in front of the man and stared at him questioningly.
“I… I think I am being followed, somebody is after me…” The man stopped. The barkeep looked at the door as if he wanted to check for himself. Then he stared blankly at the man again.
“Why should someone be after you?”
“I am a scientist and the work I am doing will be worth millions. Could you please do me a favour?”
“You already asked that. I want no trouble, have your drink and be gone”
“I can give you more money. I just need to hide these papers till I come back after making a phone call. These should not fall into the wrong hands.” He was pointing at his suitcase.
The barkeep finally gave in after ten minutes and five times the initial offer. The man walked briskly out into the cold.
The scientist returned a few moments later. He was not wearing his jacket this time. There was something different about this man this time. He looked older and tired, and he seemed lost. ‘Maybe someone robbed him of his leather jacket and the cold took its toll on him, poor guy’, thought the barkeep.
“That was fast. Here are your possessions. Have a drink. It’s on the house. You need it badly. “, the barkeep put the suitcase on the counter and place the drink right next to it.
The scientist’s eyes lit up seeing the suitcase and he left the scene with it, without touching the drink or saying a ‘Thank You’.
The barkeep was closing the counter when the scientist came in again. He was wearing the leather jacket this time.
“You didn’t leave? I am off by the way. So no drinks, sorry.” asked the barkeep.
“It took a while for me to find a payphone and then I got lost. And how could I leave? My papers are with you”
“I don’t understand, you took the suitcase away just now.”
“What?? What do you mean?”
“Are you drunk? Oh yes you are. Look, I gave you the suitcase. But you were looking troubled then. I don’t have time for this nonsense.” The bartender seemed irritated and he pushed the man out of his way.
“W… wait. It was not me. Maybe someone who looked like me. I need to find him and get the papers. Could you please assist me? I am very much new here. I don’t know the way around. I will pay you handsomely, I promise”
The negotiations went on for a few minutes and they finally settled on an amount. The bartender grabbed a pistol from behind his desk for ‘security’ and accompanied the man.
The old town was mostly a vast open barren area with only a few buildings, most of which were not occupied. The grey fog and the moon playing hide and seek added to the ghostly atmosphere.
The duo with the bartender in lead with the pistol in one hand and a torch in the other, and the nervous scientist behind him, finally found the man who took the suitcase at the end of the town park. He was burning something and using it as a bonfire. He saw the scientist and the bartender approaching but did not move.
Now the bartender was surprised. The two men looked exactly the same – one a bit older than the other, like they were father and son or maybe brothers. The scientist ran towards the man. He did not seem surprised at the similarity in each other’s appearances. He seemed more interested in what was being burned. Yes it was the suitcase and its contents.
The scientist quickly recognized the half burned suitcase and tried to put out the flames by stomping on it. The man tried to stop him and it led to a scuffle. The bartender rushed to the spot and broke it off quickly. He now had the doppelganger at gun point and asked the scientist to calm down.
The scientist wasn’t. He kept shouting and screaming about ‘years of research’ and ‘a paper presentation’. The suitcase was still burning.
“Who are you, really?” he asked the doppelganger, at last.
The man seemed calm and answered, “Isn’t that obvious? I am you, but from future. Thanks to the research”.
It seemed absurd at first but eventually the scientist seemed to accept what the man said. The bartender stood there, pointing the gun at the old man. ‘These guys are crazy’, he thought. But the money he got was real, so he didn’t care.
“Time travel? So my research worked”, asked the scientist.
“Yes it did. It laid the foundations for time traveling portals. People began travelling back and forth in the timeline and rewriting history, and in effect the future.”
“Wow. That is so exciting. ”
“Don’t be too happy. It means you can alter anything and everything. And ultimately it lead to a global nuclear disaster. The world, from the time I come from, is a wasteland and has only a few survivors now. I came back from future to change the End of Days. I wanted to undo what I did. Listen you are not going to present the paper at the lecture. ”
The suitcase had finally melted into a lump of black plastic destroying its contents with it. Then the most amusing thing, in the last few hours, happened. The doppelganger started fading away like an image in a television dissolving into static. And then he was no longer there. The bartender lowered his gun.
The future might have changed.
The lecture was a complete letdown. The subject was intriguing but the presentation was filled with a lot of holes and loose ends that half way through most of the audience started yawning. The material seemed so ordinary and the lecturer seemed lost. Even his enthusiastic followers felt disappointed. There was nothing in the speech which matched the man’s prowess.
The scientist was playing it down. He had to keep the commitment. That was why he was presenting this paper, which he had written down in a fly keeping only the superficial details, not wanting to dig down deep. He did not want to take a chance. If what happened the other night was true, this was where the world would begin to change.
As he was getting ready to leave, a man approached him. He was spectacled and bald.
“Hello, professor. That was one amazing speech. Don’t worry about them, you are going to build a practical time travel device, anyways. ” The scientist shrugged it off and tried to walk past the man. “You won’t believe me I am from the future. Your invention changed a lot of lives“, said the man behind him.
The scientist stopped and saw the man walking away. After a disappointing day, that was the first time he smiled. You may feel lost. But all you need is a push to get you back into the right track.
The bald spectacled man chuckled as he walked to his car. Pulling practical jokes was his greatest pastime. “Time travel, what a moron”, he thought.