A Short Story
The traffic light turned red—as if that would stop him.
With its V-8 engine snarling like an angry smoker with lung cancer, the ‘65 Corvette hurled through the intersection, nearly clipping a taxi.
Frank hardly flinched.
“…The protein needs to be decarboxylated before enzyme conversion… It can then pass through the blood-brain barrier…”
Mesmerized by the invented molecules that folded across his vision, Frank didn’t notice that he was drifting toward a tub-sized pothole delimited by unsightly orange cones. The right fender crunched, the tire popped, and, veering uncontrollably, the Corvette jumped the curb at eighty miles an hour. Mrs. Hillary, an elderly woman who was walking her hapless linen-booted dachshund, didn’t stand a chance against the careening heap of steel. It was a beautiful car, no doubt about it. As the baby blue chassis transformed Mrs. Hillary’s body into an unpleasant paste, then smashed into a light post and burst into sickly yellow flames, the ‘65 Corvette convertible that Frank had stolen was nevertheless a glorious memento to the past.
At this point, you’d think it was game over for Frank, Mrs. Hillary, and Mr. Woofles the dachshund. Fortunately for them, Frank was stuck in a looped reality where, regardless of self-imposed bodily harm, he would awaken to the same repeating day. Think of Frank as Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, though fifty pounds heavier and with a beard so thick a small bird could live in it.
Anyways, Frank’s phone vibrated atop the nightstand like a centipede performing a tap dance to the world’s worst jingle. “We all live in a yellow submarine, yellow submarine, yellow submarine…”
He tossed the phone into the laundry hamper and rolled out of bed. In the shower, the tight space and warm water was a catalyst for his thoughts. He muttered, “…The protein needs to be decarboxylated before enzyme conversion…”
Predictably, the phone was still ringing when he got out.
“We all live in a yellow submarine, yellow submarine…”
The caller, Frank’s boss, was a prickly fellow who flaunted an inexhaustible catalog of profanities. When Frank realized that he was stuck in a twisted time loop, he promptly told Mr. Layton to go lick a dog’s asshole and eat a horseshit casserole. Add those to your diction, Frank had said. Although juvenile and eventually tiresome, it helped Frank survive the first few weeks of his looped reality. And speaking of dates, Frank turned the odometer in his mind: Twenty-one thousand six hundred and ninety-nine days. On day number one, Frank was a lowly meter maid with barely a high school education; over the years, he learned nine languages, composed a billboard topping one-hit wonder, and shot a course record 61 at Pebble Beach. No matter how many times he tried, though, he hadn’t yet seduced the love of his life, the stunning Angelina Jolie. It goes to show that some things just aren’t meant to be. And on day twenty-one thousand six hundred and ninety-nine, he was a biomolecular neurologist trying to cure his chronic disease. It’s amazing, given bountiful resources, how much a man can learn while serving multiple life sentences as a prisoner of time.
At quarter to ten, Frank took the elevator down to the parking garage. As per usual, the ‘65 Corvette was parked with its key still in the ignition. Frank turned the key and the Corvette idled like a purebred canine awaiting its master for a walk. The rightful owner, old man Daniels from the fourth floor, was currently busy with his mistress. Frank knew the intimate details of every tenant in the building. Because why not? When tomorrow doesn’t matter, who cares if you catch an old man giving it to a prostitute? The first time Frank barged in, the trepidation on their faces was priceless. What a riot. And who knew old man Daniels had a wrinkly unicorn tattoo on his right ass cheek?
But that was years ago, subjectively speaking, when Frank was still young at heart. Now, he had a mission. He was tired of living in a static existence.
“…Decarboxylation before enzyme conversion…”
Although he stubbornly counted the days, he neglected to number the occasions in which he had died. Hundreds, if not thousands. Some were accidents, like yesterday’s debacle, but most were by his own hand. He was not afraid of death; in fact, he longed for it. He yearned for progress, consequence, and cessation—for a sense of accomplishment. He could carve from stone a full-scale replica of Michelangelo’s David, but such a feat would be wholly eliminated the moment he fell asleep. His corporal progress perished like pages in a fire, and every day he was forced to rewrite its narrative.
With its engine eagerly grumbling, the Corvette raced through the parking garage and onto the street. Frank swerved around a bus, avoided a car turning into his lane, and, to elude a familiar bloody death, veered onto the sidewalk and bypassed the freight train that blared a war horn. He could do it blindfolded.
You might be wondering what divine curse had impaired the laws of physics while Frank was handing out parking tickets on day number one. He had just fastened a boot to an immaculate white BMW when its yuppie owner jogged from the Planet Smoothie and began to yell. Ronald the Yuppie marched around the vehicle, cursing the day Frank was born, and fruitlessly kicked at boot. That part was normal; like an iron magnet, the boot attracted the filaments of rage that contaminated society. But Ronald the Yuppie then climbed onto Frank’s Smart Car, posing preeminently like Christ the Redeemer atop his mountain. Wild eyed and frenzied, Ronald the Fanatic then preached that karma shall plough into Frank’s asshole and lay eggs of repentance that would forever confine him to a dead-end life. It was a poetically magical moment. Like a god smiting lowly peasants with deific artillery, Ronald the Deity flung the smoothie at Frank. Wiping away the cold slush from his face, Frank realized that mango was delicious. Anyways, Frank wasn’t superstitious. That wouldn’t stop him, though, from wholly destroying that spiffy BMW in more ways than he’d be comfortable admitting. Revenge feeds the flames of creativity like no other emotion. But this was eons ago when Frank was suffering through the angsty phase of his interminable imprisonment. Now, he used the BMW for target practice. It wasn’t personal anymore—it was simply habit.
As Frank ripped around a corner, Ronald the Yuppie’s car sat in front of the Planet Smoothie. In the Corvette’s glove box, there was a gold plated 9mm loaded with three bullets. Old man Daniels sure lived on the edge. What a guy. At full throttle, Frank cocked the pistol and took aim, and as the Corvette raced nearer, two blasts like hammer strokes erupted from the barrel. The BMW’s tires popped like balloons that had floated too high, and, partially deaf, Frank muttered, “…Decarboxylation before conversion…”
Speeding through a red light, Frank cleared his thoughts and paid closer attention to the orange traffic cones that guarded the giant pothole like a troupe of Queen’s Guards. He coasted around the obstruction and slowed near the sidewalk where Mrs. Hillary was walking her fashionable dachshund. Rolling to a stop, Frank said, “Mrs. Hillary! I wanted to apologize for yesterday. I was being terribly irresponsible and unmindful. I hope you and Mr. Woofles can forgive me.”
Exposing a petrified expression oozing with Botox, Mrs. Hillary replied, “I’m sorry. I—I don’t think we’ve met. Have we met before?”
“A hundred times. But don’t worry—we’ll meet a hundred more. Take care, Mrs. Hillary!”
Pulling at the leash, Mr. Woofles barked madly as the Corvette roared like a wildcat, and Frank shifted into gear and peeled so much smoke that Mrs. Hillary’s hair turned a shade greyer. Down the street, he impulsively split the lanes between two incoming cars and drifted to a standstill in the parking lot of a 7-11. Practice makes perfect. He sauntered inside and grabbed a jug of antifreeze, some cleaning solution, a couple oranges, and a lottery ticket. After years of trial and error, where he usually suffered a painful, meaningless death, the most useful chemicals for his experiment were ironically the easiest to obtain. Everything else could be found at the university’s lab. As Frank was paying, his boss walked inside and snarled incredulously.
“Frank! You lousy excuse for a human being! I ought to fire you right here and—”
“Save it,” Frank interrupted and grabbed the chemicals. “I’ve got things to do.”
Mr. Layton’s face radiated a purple hue. “Why I ought to—”
“Yeah, yeah,” Frank said and walked outside. “You ought to kick my donut filled ass. Nothing I haven’t heard before.”
“Yeah…” Mr. Layton mumbled as if the words had been sucked from his throat. “Hey! Where do you think you’re going?”
Frank got into his vehicle and said, “Relax, big man. I’ll make it up to you. There’s a scratch lottery winner in the display, third one from the left.”
Mr. Layton took an aggressive step forward and barked, “And you don’t want it?”
“I’ve already got mine.” Frank flashed the Powerball ticket that would earn him a cool forty nine million later that evening. The winnings weren’t overly useful; he’d die of sleep deprivation before ever seeing a single penny. But it was habit, and everybody’s got their own definition of a retirement savings plan. Eventually he’d cash the ticket. Maybe even today.
“…Decarboxylation… enzymes… blood-brain barrier…”
The lab weren’t far away. Frank parked in a reserved stall and was approached by a parking officer. She was tall and curvy, with sharp, intimidating facial lines accentuated by middle age fatigue and desperation. Samantha didn’t know him, but he knew all about her. Intimately. Time and again, he had seduced the officer with a magical combination of words and actions like a cheat code for a video game. It was as easy as flipping cash to a prostitute. Even though she hadn’t a clue about it, Frank was miserably ashamed.
“Excuse me, sir. You can’t park there.”
Frank smiled meekly. “I probably deserve that ticket. I’ll be frank—I’d like to take you to dinner.”
The lines on her face strained with suspicion. “What’s your name?”
“It’s Frank. Like I said, I’ll be Frank.”
She rolled her eyes and said, “Puns aren’t going to save you from this ticket.”
“But puns won’t stop you from enjoying dinner with me, either.”
“Uh-huh.” Officer Sam started writing on the ticket.
Frank said, “How about we go for some green eggs and ham.”
The flat line of her lips curved into a near imperceptible smile. She said, “Do you like green eggs and ham?”
“I do so like green eggs and ham. Thank you, thank you Sam-I-am.”
The sharp edges of her expression weathered into smooth contours. “That’s my favorite book…”
“What do you like about it?” Frank asked even though he knew the answer.
“When I was a girl, it convinced me that one day I’d make a difference in someone’s life. I am Sam, Sam-I-am. But handing out parking tickets isn’t quite what I had in mind.”
“If you write your phone number on that ticket,” he said, pointing to the paper in Samantha’s hand, “you’ll make a difference in mine.”
“You’ve got puns and cheese.”
“Is that a yes?”
“In your dreams.”
“I’ll meet you right here at eight if I’m still alive.”
She crossed her arms and said, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Exactly that,” Frank said and grabbed the chemicals. Concealed against his waistline, the pistol bulged uncomfortably. It had only a single bullet left—the one with his name on it. He said, “Wish me luck.”
Seemingly unimpressed, Officer Sam slapped the ticket on the windshield and walked away. Frank smiled and strutted in the opposite direction. He didn’t bother looking at the ticket; he knew Sam-I-Am’s phone number like he knew the calendar date.
At the reception desk of the hospital’s lab, Frank checked his watch and said, “I’m looking for a Miss Delacombe.”
The lone woman at the desk fixed her unruly black curls. “I am her. Can I help you?”
“Your silver suburban is being towed from the back lot.”
The woman stood up and shouted, “What? I parked in my stall! You can’t do that!”
Frank said coolly, “If you believe it’s a mistake, you can catch the tow truck before they leave.”
“I can’t believe this,” she muttered and grabbed her purse. “Racism. That’s what this is.”
After the receptionist abandoned her post, Frank walked around the desk, rummaged through a drawer, and snatched a set of keys whose nickel coats were fading to brass. It worked every time.
Down a drab corridor populated with heavy doors that required special swipe cards for access, Frank found the janitor’s closet and inserted the longest key. Barely larger than a shower stall, the closet stank of neglect and age. A stained plastic sink dominated the space, with dirty pipes sprouting from its backside and running up along the wall. A red toolbox sat beneath the sink, and Frank took from it a heavy wrench. He checked his watch. He was a bit early, so he wielded the wrench like a barbaric club, feeling its forceful momentum pivoting in his hand. His watch again beckoned.
Three, two, one…
As a young lab tech was walking by, Frank swung the wrench and clipped a faucet extruding from the pipe, and water sprayed several feet into the hallway. The technician yelped as the water drenched her white lab coat.
“What the hell!”
The young woman tossed her coat to the ground and muttered, “Some people… such incompetence…”
He waited until she was out of sight and then picked up her coat. A key card was clipped to its interior. Bingo. Losing the key card was a big no-no; management would lock her lab until she received a new card and, luckily for Frank, they wouldn’t think to check inside. He turned a corner and walked to the furthest lab, but before he could swipe the card, another technician walked past.
“Are you supposed to be back here?”
Frank replied, “I’m looking for Mr. Miller. His Honda is being towed.”
The technician, a perpetual Ph.D. student who could relate to Frank’s temporal entrapment, shook his head and said, “God damn it. Not again. Those assholes.” The technician then pushed through the emergency exit, and Frank proceeded to swipe the key card. Seriously, the towing bit never failed. Innovation is overrated, anyways. Like all matter in the universe, the simplest, lowest energy state is the most favored. The sheer infinitude of combinations of actions is enough to wholly annihilate that creative process.
At the far end of the white sterile lab, Frank approached a glass wall that housed a collection of inert viruses and useful proteins in sealed vials. After entering an eight-digit code, the glass pane unbolted and slid open. He grabbed the necessary vials and began preparing the equipment that would transform his ordinary chemicals into radical catalysts.
“…The protein needs to be decarboxylated before enzyme conversion… It will pass through the blood-brain barrier… It will work this time…”
Day twenty-one thousand six hundred and ninety-nine was going to be special: It was a culmination of innumerable failures caused by ineptitude and lack of time. It was difficult to solve his unique disease in a single day, or rather, before sleep would cut through his mind like a guillotine. At first, half a century ago, he’d naively contemplated building machines that would mold the very laws of time that imprisoned him—machines that would harbor the untapped magic of relativity and quantum mechanics. But, even with an infinitely repeating day, some things are indeed impossible. Like a deranged beast toying with its prey, God would not let him escape so easily. He had to settle for a more subtle approach; he would introduce a virus that would exploit the beast’s weakness. After flawlessly executing the tiresome procedure, the early morning hours crawling at a slower pace than the years had, Frank at last produced his masterpiece. Hanging delicately in his fingertips, the vial distorted the white light above. Slighting the gods of time, Frank popped the vial’s top and swallowed the sickly liquid. By design, the virus inhibited the production of soporific melatonin and acted as an outbound transport for the toxic waste that accumulated daily in the brain. In other words, if the antidote worked, Frank would never again sleep. And never again would he wake to that stupid Beatle’s song.
By tomorrow, a new life would await him. He was sure of it. His last batch, after having been effective for seventy-two hours, had triggered an unexpected immune reaction that shut down his brain. It was, however, an easy fix. Strutting down the corridor toward the reception desk, with an aura of ecstasy buoying his footsteps, Frank grabbed the pistol’s handle in anticipation. The janitor, a large man with a beard coarser than Frank’s, blocked the hallway. “Hey, amigo. You’re not allowed here. How about you wait right there for security.”
There was no bowling past the janitor, who could have posed as a football guard, and Frank was feeling comfortably entrenched in his routine. With the pistol now raised like a starting gun, Frank eyed the stupefied janitor and began walking forward. Predictably, the janitor fled faster than a wide receiver. However, as if affected by infinitesimal distortions at the quantum scale, the pistol suddenly discharged and blew a hole through the ceiling. Frank yelped and dropped the gun. A one in a million fluke that even he hadn’t predicted. Though a sense of panic gnawed at his stomach, Frank proceeded with his planned escape. A moment of abnormality could not matter: He’d become complacent with the notion of immortality.
For the next seventy-two hours, he stayed at a Four Seasons Hotel while the virus infected his body. There was no desire for sleep. He felt perfectly healthy, too, and with the lottery ticket secure in his wallet, he was on top of the world. Like a retired tycoon spellbound by grandeur and senility, Frank ordered a bottle of champagne and watched The Price is Right. For the first time in half a century, he didn’t know the prices. It was glorious.
But unfortunately for Frank, a few hours later he was pulled over while driving to the 7-11. The winning lottery ticket was never cashed. Charged with unlawful weapons discharge resulting in injury, breaking and entering, and grand theft auto, Frank almost wished he could turn back time. Almost. He simply didn’t give a shit anymore. The trial was a riot, too. Apparently, the bullet from the accidental discharge traveled through the ceiling and into the hospital room above. Old man Daniels, who had a heart attack upon discovering the missing Corvette, was receiving treatment in that very room. The bullet struck him in the buttocks, and the tattooed unicorn was blasted a new asshole. The pictures were hilarious.
Though locked away in a cage for five years afterwards, Frank was content. He never exploited the skills and knowledge that he had gained while in the time loop. That part of his life was over. He was just a regular guy serving his time, surrounded by four walls and a changing world, confined by space instead of time. After he was paroled for good behavior, Frank worked odd jobs, got married, and had two kids. Sam-I-Am was a pretty good mother. How he’d convinced her to marry him on the first and only try was still a mystery. Seasons bloomed and years withered, and Frank grew wrinkles and grey hair. He was tired. It was time to move on.
Finally, at the age of sixty-eight, Frank savored his last breath as his heart began to stutter, and blackness crawled into his mind like a welcomed rainstorm during a drought…
“…We all live in a yellow submarine, yellow submarine, yellow submarine…”
The goddamn cell phone vibrated to life.
On day twenty-one thousand seven hundred, Frank was not amused.