“Tabs? You still awake?” Alicia asked, twisting on the narrow mattress towards her friend on the floor. “Uh, is it cool if I call you Tabs?”
The past several hours had been a whirlwind of sirens and blood and concerned parents, a news van, and the police officers, and nightfall had seemed to creep up on them all at once. It was hard to focus on her mother’s terrified expression as she arrived and nearly tackled her into a stranglehold of a hug, and Alicia didn’t remember much of what she’d said to those policemen or reporters. There were too many questions burning on Alicia’s mind.
“Yeah,” Tabitha answered, sounding exhausted. “Call me whatever you want. Tab, Tabby, Tabitha.”
Alicia had refused to part after the ordeal they’d been through, pleading to sleep over in Tabitha’s tiny room in that worn-down mobile home of theirs. She was offered the tiny single bed, while Tabitha gathered up blankets and stretched out on the floor. Alicia’s mother sat out in the dining room with Mr. and Mrs. Moore, still exchanging words in hushed voices.
“Doesn’t bother you if I use ‘Tabby?’”
“Okay. Um. You prolly know what I’m gonna ask, right?”
“How did you know?”
The dark bedroom was dead silent for a few long moments before Alicia heard her friend let out a long sigh.
“I didn’t… exactly know,” Tabitha muttered. “Didn’t think it would happen on the first of October. Just sometime in October.”
“But, you did know?” Alicia quickly sat up.
“...Yeah,” Tabitha admitted.
The room went silent again.
“Okay. Tabitha. Can you understand why that would freak me the hell out?” Alicia blinked, trying to make out the other girl’s expression. “I know this is gonna sound shitty, but if we’re gonna be friends—you need to fucking tell me what’s going on.”
For possibly the first time in her life, Alicia felt shaken. Witnessing the shooting, stammering out responses to the emergency dispatcher, even simply standing by while Tabitha and the other officer struggled to stem the bleeding had been an incredibly taxing experience on her. The implications of Tabitha possibly having advance knowledge of all of this weighed heavily on her, and she knew she wouldn’t be getting any sleep until she addressed things.
“I…” Tabitha struggled out. “I don’t know what I should say. How much I should say, right now.”
“Was it, like, planned out?” Alicia asked in a flat voice. “Pre-meditated? Was this like, a set-up and planned out cop killing?”
“No!” Tabitha exclaimed, and from the rustle of blanket it sounded like she’d sat up as well. “No, no.”
“What, did you get, um. Like, a vision of the future? Dreams?” Alicia guessed. “I dunno, prophecy sorta stuff?”
Tabitha didn’t answer.
“Time travel?” Alicia prompted again. “Tabitha?”
“Kind of…?” Tabitha whispered in a weak voice. “But, not exactly?”
Time travel? Alicia frowned. The dark bedroom seemed to spin with fantastical scenarios for a moment. Yeah, right.
“Okay, um. Time travel. What else do you know? What can you say that can like, prove it for me? What do you mean ‘not exactly?’”
“I… ugh,” Tabitha made a sound that Alicia guessed was the girl slapping her own forehead, and then she heard the girl fall heavily back down onto the comforters arranged on the floor. “I don’t even know where to start.”
“Time travel?” Alicia suggested. She tried to settle back down on the bed, but the events of the day and the sudden introduction of the topic had her too amped up. “Start at time travel? What, was there a time machine?”
“I don’t think so,” Tabitha said quietly. “I lived out my life, and then somehow I came back to this point in my life. Er, I came back to right towards the end of middle school.”
“Wait, so did you die? In the future I mean? How far in the future? Does anything big happen?” Alicia didn’t really buy into what Tabitha was saying, but she couldn’t help herself from blurting out questions all the same. “Did you die?”
“No,” Tabitha sounded unsure now. “I… I don’t think so. I don’t remember dying, at least. I was in the hospital, getting my headaches checked out.”
“How far in the future?” Alicia prompted.
“Forty-seven years,” Tabitha answered in a quiet voice. “The year twenty-forty-five.”
She’s actually going there? Alicia frowned. She’s seriously gonna try to sell this bullshit story to me? I know she’s imaginative and all, but I’m still legit freaked out here—this isn’t the time or place to play around like this. Is this her own way of coping with shit? Should I NOT just poke a bunch of holes in her stupid time travel thing?
“Okay—so, the future,” Alicia splayed out her hand in the dark and began ticking off fingers. “Is there flying cars? Robots? Teleporters? Or aliens?”
“Sort of, sort of, no, and no,” Tabitha chuckled sadly.
“Okay back up, back up to those two ‘sort ofs,’” Alicia laughed. “Explain. Flying cars?”
“There’s always been flying cars,” Tabitha said. “Probably even in these times—in the late nineties. It’s the kind of tech project that’ll make the cover of Popular Mechanics, maybe, but never ever gets mainstream.”
“Lame and boring answer,” Alicia rolled her eyes. “Why not? What’s a future without flying cars?”
There was a long, drawn-out silence, and Alicia was sure Tabitha had given up on her time-traveling charade.
“The common sense answer is that they’re expensive. A compromise between a street legal vehicle and one capable of flight also really sacrifices the better points of each.” Tabitha’s voice was odd—it was somehow too tired and world-weary. “But, that’s not the real reason they’ll never be a thing.”
“Oh yeah?” Alicia sat up on one elbow, interested.
“There’s a terrorist attack,” Tabitha murmured. “It’s... the terrorist attack. They hijack four flights from the Boston airport and… fly them into buildings. I think it’s Boston. Either Boston, or Baltimore. Two of the planes hit the twin towers; the world trade center. A lot of people die. Another one hits the pentagon. The last one crashes in a field in Pennsylvania, it was heading for the White House, but… who knows what happened.”
“Okay, kinda not funny anymore,” Alicia let out an uneasy laugh.
“The economy tanks right away, and things stay bad for years. People are afraid to fly, airport security changes forever. Airlines need government bailout money to keep operating. It was… there got to be this sort of... mass hysteria in the background of our culture, a paranoia that certain people in office use to—”
“Robots?” Alicia interrupted, feeling a little unsettled. “Robots was your other ‘sorta?’”
“They don’t act like humans and walk around,” Tabitha sighed. “The common everyday ones are just automated janitors and groundskeepers, really. They mop floors or mow lawns for whatever area they’re programmed for, and return to their dock to recharge. They don’t look like people, they look like vacuums and mowers, but without the handle stuff.”
“Your future sucks,” Alicia said. “I guess at least everything’s all magically clean everywhere though, right?”
“It’s not really any different than things are now,” Tabitha replied sadly. “It’s just... buying a smart-cleaner rather than paying a night janitor to mop the floors.”
“Lame,” Alicia decided. “Do robots take a lot of jobs, then? Fast food?”
“Yes, actually,” Tabitha said. “Well, it’s technology, but not exactly robots. Nobody behind the counter taking orders anymore—it’s all touch screens, or through your phone. Actual people still make the food, but I’m sure that’ll eventually change, too.”
“Through your phone?” Alicia laughed. “So what, you have to call ahead and order if you want fast food?”
“A phone in the future is… a very different concept than a phone in nineteen-ninety-eight,” Tabitha sighed. “They start out as portable phones, but then they’re also cameras, personal computers, and 3D scanners and projectors and eventually your wallet and ID all rolled into one, I guess.”
“That’s… kind of a big game-changer,” Alicia said, leaning out over the bed. “Tabitha? How serious about all of this are you?”
“...I’m not going to ever admit to anyone else that I’ve been to a future,” Tabitha said carefully. “I understand that you’re skeptical, and we can drop it as a joke for now. I’d just like you to… keep it in the back of your mind as a possibility, when I seem to know things in advance from now on that I shouldn’t. If that’s all right.”
“But, you did know about the police officer getting shot,” Alicia pointed out. “What happened with that in your future?”
“He died,” Tabitha said.
“So, this time through, he doesn’t die? What does that change? What happens?” Alicia asked, interested.
“I… don’t know if he will make it yet, if that’s, um. Something that I can change or not. I won’t know until we hear what happens. I tried, though,” Tabitha managed to say, her voice dropping down to a whisper. “I tried?”
“No, no, I’m not saying you didn’t try—you were amazing—you did everything you could with saving him, and all. But, just, like… why?” Alicia wondered. “Not to sound heartless, but… why put yourself through all of that?”
“Because, I have to try?” Tabitha answered in that quiet voice. “It’s all so... complicated. I have to change things, if I’m going to survive. Because, I know I can’t go through life like I did before all over again. I’d rather die. But, then changing everything is so terrifying, sometimes so much worse than it was before! I feel like… like I’m losing my grip on who I was in the first place—or who I’m supposed to be—or what I wanted? What I’m doing?”
“The Julia from my last life would understand that I can’t save everyone. I think she’d be cross at me for putting that burden on myself, for even trying. B-but, the things that happened that made Julia think like that—that made Julia the way she is—I-I can’t let them happen to her. I’m not ever going to let them happen to her.
“So, the Julie in this lifetime will never be the Julie I knew. And, maybe I’m robbing her of everything that defined her, everything that made her… her? She’ll never understand my writing, understand me the way she did, and I don’t even know if I’m saving her anymore or… erasing her real existence?”
Who the hell is Julie? Alicia’s head felt like it was spinning at the sudden detour onto what sounded like a really heavy topic. Or, is it Julia?
“What would the past, er, your future Julia want you to do? The one you knew?” Alicia asked.
“She would… choose not to exist,” Tabitha’s voice was wavering now, on the edge of tears. “Yeah. That’s exactly what she did. I just—I can’t—I don’t want things to be that way! I’m not going to let those things happen to her, I won’t ever let those things happen to her, but then that also probably means my Julie, the Julie I knew really is gone forever! And, then it’s like, what’s the fucking point of any of this?! I never—”
“Tabitha. Tabitha!” Alicia urged, clambering down from the bed as Tabitha’s voice continued to rise. She could tell her increasingly bewildering friend was working herself up into some kind of hysteria now, and she didn’t want the adults running over to check on them.
“Th-the first thing I did?” Tabitha bawled, “When I realized what the fuck happened to me, that I was back in time? I broke down and started crying. Just like this. Because it sucks. You were right about that. The future—my future—repeating all of this, is lame and it sucks. And, I hate it. I hate it.”
“Ssh, shh, it’s okay! It’s okay, I believe you,” Alicia awkwardly pulled Tabitha into a hug to try to comfort her. She heard footsteps coming down the narrow hallway of the mobile home. “Everything’s gonna be okay.”
“It’s not,” Tabitha’s body wracked with sobs. “It’s not okay! I’m—”
“You girls okay in here?” Mr. Moore opened the door partway, sending a narrow band of light from the hall stabbing across Tabitha’s tiny bedroom. “Tabitha?”
“She’s just—” Alicia turned to give him a worried look, but was thankful he didn’t enter. She was just in her underwear and a borrowed oversized shirt to sleep in. Despite the unusual circumstances, Mr. Moore was practically still a stranger to her. “It’s... been a long day? We just need a little time.”
“...Okay,” Mr. Moore hesitated. “You two need anything at all, don’t be ‘fraid to just holler. We’re all right out in the other room.”
“Thank you,” Alicia gave him a weak smile.
Tabitha refused to raise her head.
“You’ve both been up on channel seven twice now, already,” he reported. “Last news was, Officer Macintire got life-flighted from Springton General to Louisville. Still in critical condition, and… well, you girls did everything you could, and we’re so proud of the both of you. He’s in all our prayers.”
“Thank you,” Alicia said again, trying not to start tearing up herself.
Tabitha’s crying seemed to redouble in intensity, and after giving the girls a pained look, Mr. Moore quietly closed the door to give the girls their privacy. Muffled sobs sounded out in the small enclosure of Tabitha’s dark room for several long minutes, and all Alicia could think to do was hold her friend in a tight hug. Wondering what the hell she could do.
“All of it for nothing,” Tabitha cried. “Nothing’s changed. Nothing really changes. Knew I couldn’t. Knew I couldn’t change anything—”
“Ssh ssh sshh, we don’t know anything for sure yet,” Alicia whispered, cradling Tabitha’s head against her shoulder. “We’re going to figure everything out, okay?”
She’s not crazy. It’s just— a lot happened today, with the shooting. She’s... out of sorts. Who wouldn’t be? Maybe more than just today—a lot happened over a lot of days, and her stress just has her jumping to weird conclusions in her head? Alicia didn’t want to believe any of Tabitha’s claims, because they seemed awful dark. Ominous. The more she thought about them, the less she liked the time travel idea. Which was a problem, because Tabitha’s act was getting pretty convincing.
“Hey, Tabitha?” Alicia asked in a whisper, gently rocking the crying girl back and forth. “Did you know me, in the future?”
Still shedding tears and letting out tiny sniffling sobs, Tabitha simply shook her head from side to side, answering in the negative.
“Really?” Alicia was a little surprised. “That was one of the things I kept thinking was weird, though. You kind of singled me out back then in school.”
“—rd about you,” Tabitha said.
“Heard about you,” Tabitha repeated. “You became a big artist. Drew stuff for magazines. You were from Springton.”
“I do?” Alicia blinked in the darkness, surprised. “Big? Like, big big? Famous?”
“Not big big,” Tabitha shook her head. “I don’t think. Just. Successful? Wanted you to draw goblins for me.”
“Oh.” Alicia didn’t know if she should be disappointed or elated. “Tell me something else, then. What do I gotta invest in, to make big bucks in the future?”
“Alphaco,” Tabitha said into her shoulder.
“Alphaco,” Tabitha pulled away, wiping her nose on the back of her hand. “Alphabet corporation. Sorry. I’m sorry for... losing it like that.”
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” Alicia patted the girl’s arm reassuringly. “I cried today, too. I lost it, like, right in the middle of everything happening back there right at the scene. Remember?”
“Alphabet Corporation,” Tabitha said again. “They make a search engine called Google. Named after googol—ten to the hundreth power.”
“Googol? A—a search engine?”
“For the web. The internet. Indexes everything on the internet,” Tabitha explained in a weak voice, rubbing her wet eyes. “You ask Google what you’re looking for, and it finds whatever. Everyone uses it.”
“Everyone uses it?” Alicia tried not to sound doubtful. “And, that makes money in the future?”
“Yeah,” Tabitha nodded. “Advertisements, tracking data. Companies want to know what you search, profile you. Then, ads you see are always related to what you want. Money. Lots of money.”
“That sounds… clever?” Alicia admitted. That scary thing was happening again, where the things Tabitha said were somehow more thought-out and convincing than they ought to be. “Is that legal?”
“It’s all in fine print somewhere or other,” Tabitha shrugged with a sniffle.
“Wait, are you investing in stuff?” Alicia asked.
“I guess?” Tabitha shrugged again. “Someday? Completely broke now. So, not soon. Most of the big companies that are still around in twenty-forty-five don’t even exist yet. Alphaco should have their IPO a couple years after we graduate, though. I think? Was going to have us put whatever we had into that.”
“What’s an IPO?”
“Initial public offering. So that we can buy stocks. Maybe a hundred dollars a share? Something like that?”
“Tabitha… if you’re from the future and know that ahead of time, then you’re already basically super rich? Or, you will be?”
“Maybe in twenty years, yeah,” Tabitha gave Alicia a helpless look. “Won’t help us much when we actually need it—and getting enough shares at all isn’t going to be easy. It’s a popular stock. Or, it will be.”
“Tabitha,” Alicia took a deep breath. “I can barely even see you, but can you like, look me right in my eyes, one hundred percent dead serious and swear on someone’s grave that you’re actually from the future?”
“Okay. I still don’t think I actually believe you, not deep down,” Alicia admitted. “But, I really want to. You’re either from the future, or some kind of smart that’s kinda scary. Do you have anything that can like, prove things beyond any doubt?”
“Nine eleven,” Tabitha sighed, hanging her head until her face fell into her hands. “The big terrorist thing. It happens September eleventh, and pretty soon. I know it was Bush and not Clinton in office, but it’s somewhere right after the year two thousand. You won’t have to worry about Y2K.”
“Wait—I think my parents are putting money in a Y2K.”
“Probably a 401k. Y2K’s a computer bug that has to do with the millenium, but it turns out to be this big false alarm. Nothing major happens.”
Finally, found a little hole in her story, Alicia thought to herself, torn between feeling relieved and feeling disappointed. Bush was the president BEFORE Clinton, not the one after. That was scary—she was starting to actually get me going with all of this. But... she’s going through a lot. I can play along.
“Oh, yeah. That might be it, 401k,” Alicia nodded agreeably. “Sorry. So, is there any way to prevent the big terrorist thing?”
“Um,” Tabitha seemed at a loss. “Not… that I can think of. I mean, I haven’t thought about it much, because I’ve been focused on the here and now, but… anything off the top of my head I could try will get me in very, very serious trouble. I also wouldn’t have any proof or explanation. Also, then the terrorists will probably just plan something else that I don’t know about.”
“If you know who the terrorists are—maybe just tell the cops about them beforehand?”
“It’s… complicated,” Tabitha shook her head. “Bigger than that. From what I remember, it took us years to catch up with them regardless. Years, and a lot of military deployment. They’re not in a good place for us to get to.”
“Russia?” Alicia guessed.
“The middle east,” Tabitha explained.
“Ah. Don’t know much about them,” Alicia looked thoughtful. “What’s their beef in the first place?”
“It’s a long story,” Tabitha said, letting herself fall back onto the spread of sheets on the floor. “And… I think I might pass out before I get anywhere with it.”
“Oh! Yeah, totally fine,” Alicia said, climbing up off the floor to sit back on the edge of Tabitha’s bed. “Um. I know it’s not much, but... I’m weirdly believing you more and more?”
Alicia felt a little guilty comforting her friend with what now seemed like totally empty platitudes, but tonight didn’t seem like the time nor place to flatten Tabitha’s coping mechanism. At the same time, however, she was incredibly frustrated not knowing how Tabitha actually knew the shooting was going to happen. She couldn’t even tell anymore if Tabitha completely bought into this, or if it was all an increasingly roundabout way of avoiding having to give her real answers.
“Although, if you are really a time traveller, you’re just about the worst at covering up details and keeping it all secret and all,” Alicia prodded. “I mean, you were checking out all of those books regarding bullet wounds and emergency medical stuff, and then you’re coincidentally caught up in all this? People could connect that.”
“Didn’t actually check out any of those books,” Tabitha yawned. “They never left the library.”
“Oh. Well, still—like, I noticed it.”
“You’re the only one who ever came over and saw,” Tabitha said with a self-deprecating laugh. “Just like last time through—I have no friends. Nothing much has changed, no matter what I do.”
“Wait, why didn’t you hide all of it from me, then?” Alicia chuckled. “Sorry. I swear I’ll let you sleep. I just, I have so many questions...”
“Wanted you to notice,” Tabitha murmured. “Needed you to, if you were ever gonna believe me.”
“So, you were gonna tell me about all of this?”
“Yeah. Soon as you asked.”
“Because… I really wanted to not… do all of this alone,” Tabitha admitted reluctantly. “Wanted a friend.”
“Why me, though? I’m just fourteen. If everything you’ve said is true, you’re like, actually this ninety-year-old grandma.”
“I’m thirteen. Turn fourteen in December,” Tabitha mumbled. “I just have… extra memories, or something. I don’t know. Definitely feel thirteen, instead of sixty. Not even just my body. I have my thirteen-year-old mind, but then also with things I shouldn’t remember. Because they haven’t happened yet? Can tell the difference.”
“Okay,” Alicia said, leaning forward in the darkness. “Then. I want you to know, that whether or not you’re somehow making all of this up, we’re definitely friends. Okay?”
“No, not ‘thanks.’ You say ‘okay.’”
They didn’t speak anymore after that, but there was no way Alicia was going to be able to fall asleep. She really did seriously consider Tabitha her friend, and that was what made all of this so complicated and impossible to work her mind around. Whether she was lying about this or not, Tabitha was different; interesting. Even if nothing else tonight was real, the raw emotion her friend revealed didn’t seem feigned at all.
Maybe she’s just fuckin’ crazy? Alicia thought to herself, staring towards the ceiling with a perplexed smile. I don’t even really care. Not like I had the guts to tell her I don’t have any other friends either.