Riley didn’t win a single duel out of the dozens we played. This is all thanks to my high level of skill... And maybe a couple of well-placed Rewinds, but those don't count.
The rest of the day is wasted by not paying attention to my classes. I feel immense relief once I finally get back to my apartment after saying goodbye to Riley.
I grab my laptop and lay down on my bed. My fatigue combined with the comfort of the bed nearly makes me fall asleep but I shake my head to stay awake. There was something that kept my mind occupied during the entire day and stopped me from concentrating on my classes, and it’s how to exploit the Rewinder to fill my pockets.
My first choice was the most obvious one that everyone would do if they were in my situation: Winning the lottery.
But there were problems with that option. For one, it would draw a lot of unwanted attention. And I can't take that risk since I am not sure if I am currently tracked down by a secret organization aware of my secret.
I realize that I sound paranoid. But better be safe than sorry, especially when dealing with trained assassins.
So I will not use the lottery to earn money. Instead, I will focus on something that’s a lot more discreet even if it won't earn me a lot compared to the lotteries with massive jackpots.
And that something is online gambling.
I had spent the rest of my classes researching good gambling websites. I made an account on all of them once and kept each of one them open in a different window. The next step was choosing the games. And I settled on fast ones like roulette and blackjack after a few minutes of deliberation.
The sun is going down and the lack of light causes me to sigh. Although the clock only shows that a few hours had passed, it’s been a lot longer for me.
And I mean that literally: I probably made a thousand Rewinds in the past few hours. Manipulating the websites is a bothersome task since I have to make sure that I sometimes lose. And I only use small amounts of money to avoid alerting the websites.
But it paid off: My idea earned me twenty thousand dollars, all spread out on different accounts on different websites.
But this will be a pain to manage, isn’t it?
I power down my laptop and sigh. I don’t feel that good since my mind is screaming at me to go to sleep while my body is not tired at all.
This is quite disorientating, but I fall asleep without issues after lying down for a few moments.
I wake up as soon as my alarm rings. Or at least that’s what it would look like to a normal person. And they would be right, but only partially since this is the third time this scene plays out.
Waking up in the middle of the day taught me that I had to sleep off the fatigue accumulated during my Rewinds.
But this gave me an idea: If I can accumulate fatigue by Rewinding then I can do the same with sleep, thus countering the effects.
I slam my fist on the blaring alarm clock to stop its ringing. Twelve hours of sleep on a weekday is nice, I could really get used to this.
The rest of the day is uneventful: Using the Rewinder to win against Riley got stale after a while so I stopped relying on the app and only used my skills without cheating.
“And that’s two wins in a row!” the young man declares while smirking. “I can’t believe you fell for it!”
We were eating at the Hot Spot since my friend was so adamant to go there again, and he waves his phone displaying the victory screen in front of me.
I’m regretting my decision.
Just a little tap on a screen and all of this would be gone…
My thumb hovers over my phone but I shake my head and commit to this timeline.
I can't solve all my problems with a Rewind…
Well I can, but for all I know there’s a limited amount of time I can use it or it can only work in specific conditions. After all, I still do not understand why the Rewinder works and maybe I wasted it all on the gambling I did yesterday… Not to mention that Rewinding could be bad for the universe in general.
I shake my head to chase the thoughts away, better not worry about this too much.
“What’s up? You look troubled.” Riley asks with a concerned look.
"Nothing important, don't worry about it," I answer with a smile.
I doubt he could understand my struggle with the potential problems caused by time travel. And he would disagree with my final stance on the subject since it could be explained by the following sentence:
I don’t care at all.
The universe didn’t collapse on itself even after thousands of Rewinds, so I think we’re safe on that front. And I think I’m not being pursued by secret agents belonging to a research organization like a certain time traveler with a custom microwave.
“Are you sure? You look worried.”
Shit, I need to learn how to better hide my emotions. Riley is looking at me with genuine concern and I’m sure he’s going to-
“You know you can talk to me right? If there’s something troubling you then I-”
But he could never finish his speech on the tragic account of time going backward for a few minutes.
A mysterious incident, isn’t it?
The Rewind allows me to avoid his questioning, so we go to our respective classes.
But the thoughts of being hunted down by assassins weren't going away no matter how hard I tried to not think about it. Most people would tell me I was being paranoid.
But most people would also laugh at me or think I’m insane if I told them I could go back in time.
And you’re not paranoid if you’re right.
The terrifying possibility keeps haunting me during my classes. I was almost expecting to see a guy dressed in a black suit kick down the door and shoot me with a silenced pistol.
Luckily this didn’t happen.
The lack of countermeasures against my potential assassination is scary, so I devised a few plans before I left the campus.
I climb into my car, a white Toyota Camry from the 90s that is held together by a large number of zip ties and drive to the nearest shopping mall to buy a couple of cheap Smartphones. After that, I enter a gun store to buy a Glock 19 with a few boxes of ammunition and a holster.
I drive home as fast as I can and rush into my apartment, eager to test my idea. The gun is self-explanatory: It could be the only way to defend myself if my experiment with the phones didn’t work out.
Now let’s begin the experiment. I would hide the phones in my apartment and have a changed version of the Rewinder running on them. It will Rewind at the beginning of the day if I didn’t text a certain code to them, something I could not do if I were to disappear.
I am now looking at the unsuspecting phone on my table waiting for a certain event. The world suddenly shifts once the timer hit zero, and a look at my clock confirms that I am back to five minutes ago.
At least that works.
But there’s still something that’s bugging me. As far as I am aware the Rewind takes my mind back in time. So what would happen if the app Rewound while I was dead?
The possibility of ending up as a brain-dead vegetable isn’t reassuring at all.
I configure the phones and hide them in my apartment before grabbing the gun and loading the magazine.
My hands are trembling when I point the barrel towards my face.
I place the gun on my bedside table after a few minutes of hesitation. Surprisingly enough, I didn’t have it in me to shoot myself in the head. I doubt most people do.
Now let’s focus on earning some money!
I almost fall into a coma after a couple thousands of Rewinds so I go into my bed and sleep. I call my workplace to tell them that I quit in the next morning as soon as I wake up.
Because why would I bother with minimum wage work if I could earn in a few hours what I couldn’t even earn in a year?
But my successes have a big downside: Managing my accounts is horrible. The management of my finances is not something I enjoy doing at all since I have to check over a hundred accounts spread across dozens of websites.
The spreadsheet that lists the details of the accounts and the money on them helps a little but it is still tiresome work.
At least my student debt is getting smaller so that’s a plus.
This’ll take a huge weight off my shoulders... It’s my sole motivation to keep up the frantic pace of several thousand Rewinds a day.
A white fog comes out of my nose as I look up, the dark midnight sky being the only witness to our actions.
“Hey, wake up you droopy-eared bastard!” the man next to me says.
I growl at the figure wearing a thick woolen overcoat and point at the pair of twitching dog-like ears on top of his head.
“You’re the only one with droopy ears here, and you know what they say about guys with those…”
A toothy smile appears on his wolf-like head. “One of these days I’ll cut off your tongue, you know?”
“You know it won’t do much, right? I’ll just grow a new one in a few hours. And I doubt Mom would like it.”
The mention of our mother seems to calm him a little.” Yeah, whatever… Sometimes I wonder if the few hours of silence are worth the punishment.”
I sigh and grab the bottle my brother throws at me. “It’s not my fault you can’t take a joke! Now let’s deal with our little friend here.”
“Our little friend” refers to the mangled corpse of a humanoid creature next to my feet. Its fishlike features are barely recognizable under the pale light of the moon.
“Yeah, I’m on it. What did he even do?” I ask as I empty the bottle on the corpse. it vanishes in a puff of black mist quickly that’s scattered by the wind.
“I didn’t listen to Mom’s explanation, but I think he tried to sell forbidden merchandise to some corporation or something.”
“Seriously?! What are these people thinking? Don’t they understand the consequences of their actions?”
"It's not our job to ask questions. Our job is to receive orders and save the day!"
I nod and follow behind my brother who is already heading to our car, not sparing a second glance at the empty spot that was occupied by a body just a few moments ago.
The day is ruined.
A nasty surprise was awaiting me when I returned from my classes: Most of my online gambling accounts had been banned.
Shit, that was unexpected...
But I should have really seen that coming since always ending up with a net gain will get me noticed by the websites. It was a miracle that I had gone unnoticed for an entire week.
A sigh comes out of my mouth and I slouch on my chair, pondering on what to do next.
I could always make more accounts but I don’t want to be bothered with setting everything up again, especially since my student debt is now long gone.
My thoughts are interrupted by my vibrating phone so I look at the notification. The text isn’t, much to my surprise, from the Rewinder but from Riley who is asking if I want to go to a party with him.
I could refuse as usual, but I need something to unwind. And I can always Rewind if it gets too tedious or if I end up doing something embarrassing.
The flurry of surprised texts once I accept makes me chuckle. I grab my keys to buy some things for tonight’s party after confirming the details with Riley.
I enter the address, that my friend gave me, into my phone’s GPS. It’s only a few blocks away and in the middle of the suburbs so the drive won’t be long. But I still check the hidden phones and the gun under my shirt one last time before heading to the party.
The short drive gives me time to think: Riley said the house is rented by a group of friends and they only invited people they knew. So the risk of being murdered by an undercover agent should be almost zero.
The key word here is almost.
I know that bringing a gun to a party isn’t the best way to make friends and that they only allowed me inside because they were good friends with Riley. But I can’t be too careful since my situation is rather unique.
Another major and more realistic problem is the fact that Riley would be the only person I’ll know despite the number of attendees being close to thirty.
My popularity is staggering, isn’t it?
I can almost picture it! Me holding a can of beer while leaning against a wall, being avoided by everyone…
I shake my head and stop myself from activating the Rewinder, there’s no way that it will be that bad.
Anxiety almost makes me turn back when I park in front of the house.
How are the neighbors not complaining about this music?
I am almost expecting to see a police cruiser park in front of the driveway. But my thoughts are interrupted by my ringing phone.
I check the name displayed on the screen before answering, “Hey Riley, what do you want?”
Someone taps my shoulder in the next moment, and turning around reveals a smiling Riley carrying a large keg of beer under each arm.
“It’s nice to see you dude, I’m glad you came!”
I nod at his remark and pull out my own packs of beer from the back of my car.
You know, I might decide to never come here at all…
“Come on, I’ll introduce you to everyone!” he says as he pushes open the door with his elbow.
Great, talking to a bunch of people that’ll probably hate me will be so fun, I can’t wait!
But I follow him despite my sarcastic thoughts.
The first thing that hit me is the blaring music. I can feel it vibrating into my stomach as soon as I step inside.
A man with short, nearly white blond hair wearing a red shirt that’s too large for him along with a pair of gray sweatpants spots us as soon as we enter. He trots towards us, careful of not spilling the contents of his plastic cup.
He slaps my friend on the shoulder, “Hey Riley, it’s good to see you! I see that you’ve brought way too much like usual!” he shouts over the music while pointing at the two beer kegs that Riley is carrying.
The man then turns towards me, “And this is the friend you mentioned?” he asks while looking at me with narrowed eyes.
It’s almost like he’s already looking for a reason to kick me out.
“Where are my manners? This is John, we share some classes. And John, meet Jason. He and I go way back.”
Jason keeps eying me in silence for a few seconds before bursting into a smile and extending a hand I awkwardly shake, "All right! Nice to meet you, John! I hope you have fun tonight! You guys can unload your beers over there.” he points at a table covered in alcoholic beverages.
It’s a miracle it isn’t crumbling under the sheer weight of all the bottles piled up on it.
I drop my packs of beer, trying my best to not disrupt the pile of bottles and snacks that are wobbling with each vibration caused by the music.
I really hope I don’t break anything.
I open a can of beer and wander around since Riley is still discussing something with Jason. I take small sips of the refreshing liquid while I observe the crowd.
They are just as I expected: Everyone here is the epitome of the good-looking popular type.
I must stick out like a sore thumb…
I gulp down my beer before grabbing a cup and filling it with the classic mix of whiskey and soda. At least I can drink for free even if I’m not talking to anyone.
Something feels off about the cocktail. It’s like it tastes better with each sip… and I already feel a slight buzz after barely half a glass.
I don’t remember being that much of a lightweight.
But I keep drinking and enter a routine without even noticing that my body is moving on its own.
Fill the cup, drink and fill the cup again. Repeat this for an hour and you can have a good guess about my current state.
To put it flatly, I am drunk. But not the normal drunk, the “I will die if I drink one more drop of alcohol” kind of drunk.
Everything seems to be slowed down, and I only regain my consciousness on brief moments. One time I am drinking everything in sight, the next second I am playing beer pong with some guy. I even end up talking to a girl named Kathy. She is, as unbelievable as it sounds, more shit-faced than me.
But the conversation, that is going surprisingly well, ends when she rushes to the toilets to puke so I ditch her. Now, I am trying to flirt with another girl, but she quickly finds an excuse to get away from me.
Sadly the large amount of alcohol I drunk still isn’t enough to make me good at flirting.
I am sitting at a table with a bunch of other guys when I finally regain my lucidity and most of my basic motor skills. A quick glance at my surroundings tells me everything I need to know: There are cards and plastic chips on the table. Jason, who is sitting in front of me, snickers as he drops many chips in the middle of the table.
“So new guy, did you even ever see that much money in one place before?”
The other guys laugh before placing their chips. All the eyes of the players and the crowd that formed around the table focus on me.
“Jason, stop and leave him alone. You can see he’s completely drunk and-” Riley says.
Normally I wouldn’t say anything and ignore the bastard, but his remark made me seethe with uncontrollable rage.
Totally not the alcohol’s fault, I promise.
“Don’t worry man… This little bitch doesn’t know what will happen to him!”
Words are flowing out of my mouth without me being able to stop them, and it surprises Riley as much as me. My friend’s worried glance is alternating between my grinning face and the chips I push in the middle of the table.
Now, did it matter that I barely knew how to play poker? Not in the slightest, because this guy angered me big time.
And he will learn the hard way why you never challenge a time traveler to a card game.