As he waved his right hand, a portal appeared. A perfectly round shape with bright orange sparks around its edges. When Robb looked into the portal, the street looked different from the one he stood in right now.
Robb lay on his couch, miserable. He had to get up in six hours to go to work. A job he hated. He used to have dreams when he was younger. Dreams of becoming a documentary filmmaker. Fear stopped him from pursuing it. Fear of having insufficient income. Fear of failure. Now he was doing something he had never dreamed of. He only worked for money, but barely had time to spend it.
The same cycle every day. He dreaded his existence. Why was it that he felt so numb, so empty? There was no one he could call. No one he could have dinner or drinks with.
All his friends had moved on – getting married, having kids. He had always assumed that one day he would be like them. That he would marry, have two kids, a house up state, a dog. But something imbued that future daydream with anxiety, that something was his youth slipping away. The youth he desperately tried to hold onto, by buying the latest cosmetics, keeping a strict diet, regular exercise and different treatments.
Robb walked to the bathroom. He stood before the mirror and looked at himself, ashamed.
Attached to his regular mirror was a magnifying, small mirror, ideal to observe his imperfections up close.
He pushed his cheeks together. Robb hated his wrinkles, the crow’s feet besides his eyes. If only he could find a wrinkle in time to reverse his aging.
His face worried him the most. Then there were the coves in his hair, a bald spot forming on the top of his head and his sideburns showing grey hair.
He started his ritual, first a cold face bath filled with ice cubes. Followed by a serum from Japan which had cost him a fortune. It was made with bamboo and different herbs by a 92-year-old woman living on Okinawa. It was extremely popular, and utterly expensive. The ingredients were unknown and the old lady is the only one who knows it. The effect of the serum was sublime, resulting in vibrant skin, fighting wrinkles and dark circles. Something he bought at the women’s department. It smelled faintly like turmeric. He felt pathetic.
Robb did it all for the women. Thinking that younger equaled attractive. His date would be coming over in an hour.
He did some push-ups, brushed his teeth, put on some nice clothes. When he looked at himself in the mirror, he felt slightly better. Robb stared at the bags under his eyes. He had missed so many hours of sleep. He would not get any sleep tonight either.
He waited for her to arrive on the couch, cucumber slices on his eyes. He laughed at himself, thinking about how his former roommate would react to this sight. What was he doing? When did he become so vain?
The doorbell rang. He opened his app and unlocked the door for her. He tossed the slices of cucumber into a glass of water.
There she stood, Laura. She was a stunning young woman. She was six years younger, he had lied about his real age. She wore a camel trench coat. As she opened it, she revealed herself, naked. What a woman.
Their relationship almost had a professional tone. They had sex, and then Laura left. No strings attached, barely an ongoing conversation. Tonight too, she left after they had sex. Usually, the sex was good, but tonight both participants were somewhere else.
Unsatisfied he went to bed. Another day gone, a day not to be remembered, a day unfulfilled.
Robb unlocked his phone and checked another woman’s profile on all social media channels. She seemed to be enjoying the sun on a terrace in the city. Wine in one hand, in her other hand… Another man’s hand. Not his. He felt sorry for himself. How he missed her. She had broken things off five years ago. His wish for a future family smashed down by the woman he loved. He turned his phone off and went to bed.
Robb wandered through a black tunnel. At the end of the tunnel, he saw what seemed to be a white, moving mist. He did not have any control over his body. It was as if a force drew him into the tunnel, like a magnet.
He heard ominous laughter. It seemed to belong to a child.
The tunnel walls were pitch-black. Every once in a while an image appeared on the walls in green lines. Moments in his life were illustrated on the walls. Moments he did not care revisit. However, Robb was unable to look away.
When he came closer to the mist, he noticed something odd. The mist had taken a shape; it was a figure of a child. A spirit. Robb felt extremely apprehensive about this.
The spirit spoke and introduced himself as the phantom of time. The phantom laughed. It was the same laughter Robb had heard before.
“What are you here for?” the child asked.
Robb answered that he had no idea, his voice shaking.
“Take a guess,” the child phantom teased.
Robb did not respond.
The phantom continued, “why didn’t you want to look at the moments from your past?”
“Because those moments hurt. I can still hear my mother screaming.”
“Only by accepting that it happened, can you give it a place to rest in your heart. I’m not saying it will be easy, but you’ll need to, to move on. All your experiences form who you are, who you would become. Let me tell you something about time my friend:
All that once was will soon be forgotten.
All that is now will be dissolved.
All that will come will cease to exist.
Go on Robb, find your way. Time will show you. If you act accordingly and justly, you will be able to choose if you go back in time, stay where you are or go to the future. But first, you have to see what once was and what could become. Understand your past, prepare yourself for the present and be proactive towards your future.”
Before Robb could respond, before he could ask one of his many questions, the phantom of time disappeared. Again, he heard the child’s menacing laughter.
The darkness of the tunnel evaporated and was replaced by such an intense brightness, that Robb had to cover his eyes. Slowly he adjusted to the light and found he was standing in a shopping street in his town.
As he waved his right hand, a portal appeared. A perfectly round shape with bright orange sparks around its edges. When Robb looked into the portal the street looked different from the one he stood in right now. There were other buildings, lower than the ones he was surrounded by right now. People looked different, they wore a different style of clothing, their hair was in another style too. They looked quite old-fashioned.
He did not want to go into that portal. He knew where it led to. In a flash, he saw his father again. What he did.
His body resisted and put up a fight. He could not move and felt nailed to the ground. Every cell in his body was desperate to stay right where he was. However, his curiosity overpowered his reluctant body and made the decision. What would await him?
He took a deep breath as if he was about to dive into water and entered the portal. As Robb turned, the portal vanished behind him. The concrete street with its shops, bars and the hot dog stand had gone. There he was, all alone in a seemingly unfamiliar past.
Robb walked through the city. At first he did not recognize the street. It led him to the neighborhood where he grew up. Slowly, his memories aided him in his sense of direction, of where and when he was.
There was a reason he was walking there. He wondered if it would be before or after that horrible night. Could he be sent here to prevent what happened? Was he put here to undo something terrible?
His pace intensified and he found the way rather quickly. He passed the butcher, the bakery and the convenience store. All he had to do was turn left at the bank. And then he froze, seeing a ghost from his past. But she was no ghost, she was real. Unable to move or speak he stood there, watching her as she walked on the other side of the street. The woman gave him a curious look. It was his mother, alive.
When Robb was finally able to pull himself together, she was already out of sight. He walked to the end of the street and turned left, where his old home had been.
The building was dirty. Sketchy people were talking at the gates. A stray begging for money sat on the pavement peering at him curiously. The people at the gates watched him closely, they were not used to new people coming here.
Robb opened the gate. Just like he remembered, it was never locked.
As it became darker outside he went up the stairs inside the building. He used to live on the fourth floor with his mom and dad. Whenever his dad was around, that was. His dad found his true home in the streets - in obscure bars, strip clubs, and unofficial casinos. That man was good for nothing. He was bungler and a bad father. And an even worse partner. His parents had never married. Robb being spared his father’s surname.
Robb heard a noise behind him on the stairwell. A drunk man tripped over the stairs and lay there. As Robb approached him to help him up, he was shocked to find it was his father. In a trance Robb helped him up and aided him to his apartment, to their apartment.
His mom opened the door, worried. Apparently she had just arrived before him, she was still wearing her coat. She let them both in, gazing at Robb. For a minute Robb thought she would recognize him, but she merely shrugged. Apparently not. It seemed she was used to her boyfriend being carried home drunk by strangers.
Robb looked around the flat. This was no place to raise a child. Liquor bottles and beer cans were lying around everywhere. Food wrappings, empty cartons and tins of food. The place was far from fully furnished. On the couch, a teenager sat watching his favorite sci-fi series on TV. That teenager was teenage Robb. He could not help but notice his young, innocent face. He smiled, his younger self grinned back. Briefly, there was a hint of old age noticeable in young Robb’s face. When Robb blinked, it was gone. The boy was wearing a black Nirvana t-shirt. Robb remembered that shirt. His younger self had worn that shirt the night of… And then Robb panicked.
He grabbed his father’s arm and pulled him out of the flat. His mom looked confused. His dad was surprisingly cooperative for a drunk. Robb encouraged him by saying they would go out for a drink. Reluctantly, his mom let them go.
As they turned and walked towards the staircase, his mom’s face altered. It became pale and greenish. Wrinkles formed quickly in her face. Slowly her features distorted, her skin became leather like and full of creases and crinkles. Her hair turned from grey into white. She had turned into an old woman in seconds, hunching. How could this happen? What was this? Robb thought.
Robb shook his father and ran down the staircase with him. What if he could prevent that night from happening? What if his mother was still alive in his present?
His father looked at him oddly and mumbled something.
“Do I know you?” He asked as his face started to change. His features sharp, his skin turning yellow, his eyes black. This was madness. What was happening?
Robb did not respond. He pulled his father away.
Outside the flat, the faces of the people at the gates had contorted as well. Eyes moved around in a freaky manner, bouncing up and down in their faces, like being juggled. Others had grotesque looking features: extremely big noses, or one protuberant eye, or no mouth. Some of them had shrunk to become kids. The sight of them was horrific.
Only the stray had remained the same. The old woman grabbed Robb firmly and said:
“Take my hand, these events have passed.
What is done is done.
Go now and fast.
You made the wrong decision.
Go to a different time.
Find a time you should crave and envision.”
Her voice changed. Robb recognized the phantom child.
A new portal appeared.
As he looked around, the sight of the people around him repelled him, including his devilish father.
He jumped into the portal, without looking back, wondering if he had been able to prevent his mother’s death.
The hotdog vendor mumbled something Robb did not understand. The man’s eyes were on his chin, his mouth was where his eyes should have been.
Robb turned away from the vendor only to find more odd-looking people. He freaked out. It was as if all the air was pushed out of his lungs. He heard echoing sounds and had a blurry vision. He needed to grab hold of something. He needed to sit down.
He tried to find a seat in the park. On the park bench, he saw three elderly men and one woman transform into children in a matter of seconds. Shocked, he stood there, watching. He had hoped that by escaping from the horrible scene in the past, all would be normal again in his present. Why was that not the case? He walked through the park, desperate to get home.
On the way to his apartment, he passed Arthur’s house, a friend from his youth. Eager to talk to someone, he rang his doorbell. Arthur opened the door, but it was not adult Arthur, it was teenage Arthur, recognizing adult Robb and greeting him excitedly and asking Robb to play Nintendo. Robb was perplexed and ran home.
How could he get back to reality? Where was he? Why had all the people in his present changed? Where was the phantom?
Back home, Robb grabbed a bottle of beer from the fridge and lit a cigarette, contemplating what had happened. He had seen his mom alive and well. Never in a million years had he expected to see her again. Had he saved her from that terrible night? Would she still be alive today?
Robb splashed some cold water on his face. When he looked in the mirror, he did not find his reflection staring back at him. He saw himself as a child, seven years old. Child Robb stared back at adult Robb, curious. Then, child Robb’s face started to contort and wrinkle. It turned pale, and pigmentation formed on his face. Its skin fell from its face, like a snake, showing muscles and bones. The eyes turning frighteningly in their sockets. It was a sickening sight.
Just when Robb was about to turn away from the mirror, the phantom of time stared back at him. On this occasion, the phantom was not laughing. The child did not look happy to see him again, his face chubby and stern. He had golden blonde hair that lay flat on his head. His face was flushed, his cheeks pink and glowing.
Before Robb could ask all of his questions, the phantom started answering them. The phantom of time told Robb he could only get back to his reality if he made the right decision. Playing with the course of time was not something to take lightly, the phantom informed him. Now, he was in a parallel time loop, a timeline influenced by Robb’s decision to save his mother. It was up to Robb to get back to his own time and reality.
“But how?” Robb asked the child.
The phantom responded:
“Look back, don’t linger,
You can change the course of time with a touch of your finger,
Go to the place where you find the answers you require,
A place that deep in your heart you should desire.”
Robb made a decision. The phantom understood, his face still glowing.
The child nodded to Robb’s left, where a new portal appeared. As Robb entered, he could not see the disappointed look of the phantom of time.
Robb entered what could only be the future. The metro line outside his building had transformed into a big glass pipe in which vehicles zoomed by fast. His building had changed too; the architect must have been under the influence of some heavy stimulants. It was unrecognizable. It used to be a regular, square, red brick building. In the future however, it was entirely made of some sort of metal Robb had never seen before. There seemed to be no windows. From the building, digital advertisements and screens were lighting the empty street.
Robb crossed the street, unsure of what he would find or what would find him. When he visited the past, he had a purpose and a direction. Now he was just lost.
He thought about his encounter with the phantom, the serious look on its face, the lack of laughter. It astonished him as to how the phantom could know the questions he had. How it could hear his thoughts? It was uncanny. And now he was here. Should I be here? Have I understood the essence of the riddle correctly? I must have done something wrong, but what?
A hunch brought him into his new building. He took the glass elevator. The door to his apartment, was ajar. Even though the space looked entirely different, he knew it was his. He saw the photo of his mom on a shelf. He now had a sunken living room. At a first glance there were no electronic devices. But when he entered he was greeted by a confused voice that sounded through the apartment.
“Hi Robb, who are you today? You are already here, asleep in your bedroom. But I know you are also Robb.” The voice spoke.
Robb looked around, but found no one. Electric lights formed the shape of a face in the living room. That was the voice.
At that moment, future Robb walked in. At the sight of his younger self, he let out a high-pitched sound.
Future Robb still looked good, his skin clearly treated with the newest techniques to look younger. His hair was obviously fake and dyed. His teeth were shining brightly. His physique was slender, but a bit hunched. You could see the desperation in future Robb’s face.
“Hi,” Future Robb said. “What are you doing here, how did you even get here? Are you real?”
Unsure how to respond, Robb just nodded.
“Wow, you look great, how old are you?” Future Robb asked.
“35, what about you?”
“70, but I don’t look it, right? We could be brothers!” Future Robb took a proud stance. Chest forward, a broad grin showing his awfully white teeth.
Robb could not help but feel sorry for his future self. He looked around, for proof he had a wife, children, a life. Alas, he found no evidence.
“What is your life like now? Be honest.” Present Robb asked.
Future Robb smiled faintly, not showing any trace of happiness.
“I am doing well, we are doing well.” He winked at him. “We’re extremely rich, healthy, and we look good. We have achieved what we always wanted.”
“Yeah, but what about your wife? Do you have one? Do you have kids? Friends?”
“No, not really.”
“No? But how can you be happy then? I thought we always wanted to start a family. Hang out with friends. Since when did that change?”
“I could never keep a girl. I was too busy or lost interest. And my friends, our friends, they all started to live their own lives. With their families.”
Present Robb sighed and looked at his future self, feeling pity.
“What is holding you back from still finding love?”
“No one wants me.”
“Oh come off it. Have you tried? You ought to have very advanced future dating services?”
“Why should I?”
“Well, don’t you want to be happy, feel satisfied with your life, not just your achievements, possessions or looks?”
He surprised himself by saying all that, but he knew the truth that lay in it.
Future Robb did not respond and turned away from him.
Present Robb continued, curious. “Have you ever met the phantom of time? A child spirit who likes to laugh?”
Then there was laughter. Future Robb shrank in size, his face twisted and turned as the phantom’s face appeared.
“You are beginning to understand young Robb. Are you ready for your final decision? Do you think you know what to do now? What is important?”
He had an idea, but he was scared. He nodded.
“Very well, here we go:
In the past lies experience.
In the future, hope.
However, now is the way.
Do you know where to find it?”
Now Robb himself waved his right hand again. A portal appeared. Light orange sparks cracked and played around in the apartment. Robb looked once more at the phantom of time. The spirit smiled and beckoned him to the portal. His appearance changed into Robb’s own image as Robb entered the portal.
- The End -
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