“. . . mistake.”
Joe opened his eyes. Below him was not a cold tile floor, or even puffy white clouds, but bright green grass. A warm breeze tickled his neck. A fly buzzed in and out of his ear, contemplating whether it should land.
He was on his hands and knees, gasping for air like someone climbing out of an endless sea. For an absurd moment he thought he had grown extra fingers, but it was just double-vision, as though the shaking of The Machine had sent his eyeballs into permanent motion.
I can’t be dead, he thought, my head hurts too much.
Coughing rang out in front of him. It was Nick, lying spread-eagled on the ground, face towards the blue sky. The first thing Joe noticed was Nick’s hair, no longer short and conservatively styled but the wild jet-black mop he had when they were kids.
Joe tried to say something, but could only reply with a cough of his own. He had a brief second to catch his breath before his stomach lurched, expelling its contents onto the grass. When it was over, Joe felt better, like the Earth had regained its solidity.
Haltingly, he got to his feet. His vision returned to normal and he felt a bit stronger, though his knees shook like after a near-death experience.
Joe grabbed Nick by the arm; for some reason, Nick was wearing a black Nine Inch Nails t-shirt and a pair of green cargo shorts instead of his stylish navy-blue suit.
“Nick! Are you alright?!”
Nick groaned as Joe pulled him to his unsteady feet. He rested a hand on Joe’s shoulder, stooped down, and retched onto the grass, narrowly missing Joe’s shoes. They were a pair of black Chuck Taylors. Joe thought that was weird; what had happened to his Florsheims?
“Oh, wow.” Nick rubbed a forearm across his mouth. “That was gross.”
Joe looked around. Based on the soccer nets standing at each end of the grassy expanse, they must be at some kind of athletic field. Sure enough, a track circled them, its packed red dirt standing out against the green. On three sides were woods, on the fourth a hill leading up to a red brick building. “Are we . . . is that the Burns Center?”
Nick turned in a slow circle, his face slack with shock. At the end of his revolution Nick’s gaze darted towards Joe’s midsection. A smiled popped onto his face. “Your gut! Your gut, Joe! It’s gone!”
Nick laughed, boxing lightly at Joe’s flat stomach. “Your gut! Oh my God, Joe! It worked! It worked!” He laughed again, walking around with his arms raised like a triumphant boxer over his defeated foe.
When he stopped he straightened his back and rolled up his sleeve. “Look at my shoulder. Look at it!” He reached over to pull Joe’s up as well. “Yours too. Those lame tattoos we got are gone! This alone makes it all worthwhile!”
Sure enough, the scales of justice they had stupidly, and drunkenly, gotten inked on their shoulders after passing the bar exam were no longer emblazoned on their skin. “How did we get here? And your hair . . . Are we . . . are we dead, Nick?”
“It worked! Sanjay was right, the magnificent bastard! Don’t you get it? It worked!” Nick whooped, pumping his fist. “I’d say we’re more alive than ever!” He did a cartwheel on the grass, nearly kicking Joe in the face as he twirled through the air.
He landed, red-faced and huffing, and put his hands on Joe’s shoulders. “Remember freshmen orientation? Remember how we skipped it to toss the Frisbee around?”
“Freshman what? Like college?”
“That was years ago. Why are you. . .” But Joe stopped as his stomach turned to ice. He knew what came next.
Nick pointed to a yellow object in the grass. “There’s the Frisbee!”
The realization crept up on Joe with the ruthless calm of a killer. He chose his words carefully, trying not to sound as crazy as he felt. “Are you saying we’re back in college?”
Nick gave him a shake. His eyes were fevered. Up close, Joe noticed that he had no wrinkles around his eyes and none of the stubble that permanently shaded his cheeks. “Think about it, Joe. The Machine was called the Chrono-Displacer. Think!”
Joe opened a mouth gone dry, leaving his voice a rasping croak. “Are you saying that thing was a time machine?” Continue reading “Reset: Chapter Four: Saturday, September 1, 2001 (1)”