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The Von Barkingham Method of Time Travel

By tom lichtenberg All Rights Reserved ©


The Von Barkingham Method of Time Travel

My name is Cedric Von Barkingham and I wish I had never met myself. If I had not met myself - a particular one of my selves, I should say, to be precise - then I would never have found out exactly when and how I was going to die and then maybe I wouldn't have wound up becoming the most detested person in the history of the world and maybe even none of this would ever have happened. No, wait a minute. That can't be right. It would have all happened anyway. It had to happen. There was no way around it. Well, maybe so, maybe not, I'll leave that debate to posterity instead of wasting the very little time I have left to jot down these notes in a last ditch attempt to justify or at least to explain myself to the most hostile audience any writer has ever faced. You.

I don't expect forgiveness, or even understanding, as if that even mattered now. My last redundant self is sitting over in the corner of this cramped and sweaty attic room right this very minute, waiting for the final merge to come. He's the one, oh yes he is, and he knows it. He sits there sulking even as I scribble this down on whatever scraps of paper I can find. He knows full well it was entirely his fault. His fault that I know what I know about tonight, that is. The rest of it is also his fault, but no more his than mine, and all of the others of me who couldn't help ourselves - and all the others of you too, you readers out there, who want to blame it all on me, conveniently, when you all know what you did, what all of your yous did. It wasn't just me. Oh no. Admit it, people. You are all guilty, and you will all be judged one day.

And you know it.

I am not going to start with the beginning. Why should I? Just because that's how you like to hear a story? What do I care about your comforts and your preferences? You, who've sent your lynch mobs after me, your hired hit men, your gangsters and your thugs. So far I've eluded them all, but then again I knew I would, and you knew I would, and it's all just a game now, isn't it? Because we all know very well that this last one, this child, this nameless toddler, this unspeakable evil is certain to catch me tonight and that will be that, and this will all be over, or at least you hope and pray that it will. But nobody knows for sure, now, do they? You think that after you've rid yourselves of my presence, that once I'm dead and gone this curse will be lifted and the future will once again become the clean and clear unknown that it always was before my amazing invention, but how do you know? How can you be so sure, you who know everything up until my very last moment? After me, the abyss? The beautiful and pure unknown? It will be such a relief to you all, and to me, I suppose.

Once upon a time, nobody knew the future. That's where I'll begin, with a cozy little "once upon a time", the kind of thing you love to hear. You lap it up, you creatures of habit, you earthworms of meagre imagination. Once upon a time, nobody knew the future, and did they like it that way? No, they did not. Oh no. They wanted to know the future. Yes, they did. Yes, you all did. Admit it. For this reason they invented beliefs about an afterlife. For this reason they sought signs and interpreted nonsense from the insides of dead birds, from the alignments of the planets, from the lines on the palms of their hands, from every nook and cranny of existence. To know! To be sure! This is what you wanted all along. I can hear some of you denying it, arguing with me, claiming total innocence, but come on, who are you really fooling after all? Only yourselves. You wanted to know, only if it was just "she loves me, she loves me not".

You thought that if you knew how things would all turn out, then you could change them for the better. Ha! Nothing changes! Now you know that, among so many other things. Now you even know what you will wear tonight, what you will say the next time you open your mouth, how the movie you're watching will end, whether that street light is about to turn red and whether you will get a ticket or not when you run it. Now you know. Do you remember that baseball player, the one who died, the one who knew the next pitch was going to be a fastball aimed directly at his face? He knew it, and he saw it coming, and there was nothing he could do about it. He'd seen it coming to his face for months, ever since that last-gasp self of his had come to him and told him, and there was nothing he could do. Nothing changes. Que sera, sera, indeed.

Remember when they used to talk about 'free will'? Some joke that was! Some of you think it'll all come back once I am dead and gone, you'll all go back to believing that anything can happen, if only you wish it hard enough, or work your butt off and give it a hundred and ten percent, or if you pray on it, or if you make the right moves, say the right things, and do whatever it takes. These last few years have taught you nothing that cannot be forgotten, I suppose. We are all capable of wiping out the past, we're very good at that, and maybe in time no one will remember any of this at all, and no one will believe the memoirs and the histories of this period, when everyone knew exactly what their fortunes held in store for them, when everybody's future selves traveled back in time to litter their lives along with the sidewalks with their unwanted and unavoidable presence.

You plus one, you plus two, you plus three, there they were, every one of them traveling back, thanks to me, yes, there I said it, thanks to the Von Barkingham Method of time travel. Then you caught up with each and every one of them when their time came. You plus one came around and told you everything that was going to happen to you in the next year, down to every sordid detail. He couldn't help himself, or she couldn't help herself, depending on your gender, you ungrateful reader. And when the year had passed, your body merged with his or hers and they were corporally gone, but still there was you plus two, and you plus three! They remembered everything! You with your famous lousy memory didn't realize that the yous of the future actually had very good memories after all. As events came to pass, they stood there, whispering at you, 'oh yes, now I remember', and they wouldn't listen as you hissed at them to shut the hell up and go away. How could they go away? They were you, after all. Where were they going to go? Wherever you go, there you are!

Now you're hoping and praying that they will all finally disappear, once I am dead, and maybe they will. How should I know? Nobody knows what will happen after that, because no one from the future-after-tonight has ever returned. This is why you think my death will solve your problem. That, and because no one can ever go back to a time before I discovered my infallible method. We're all in this loop, or so you believe, between the moment of my invention and the moment of my death. For my part, I can only hope you're wrong. All of you. Wrong! But of course it's no concern of mine.

I think that you'll all be quite lonely, that's what I think. I've seen the way you all cling to your various selves. You don't even need your friends any more, now that you have your selves to hang around with. Who knows you better than you do? Who understands? Who cares about you more? Of course, your yous are all insufferable, you hate them as much as you love them, but you cannot live without them anymore. What a mess it's made of your marriages, though! I have to laugh when I think about it. Who's more in love with who? You plus two and her plus one? Who hates who more? You plus one and her plus three? Now that she sees what you're bound to become! It's a mess, and your homes are all way too small for sure by now. All those mistakes you're going to make, and those surprises that simply won't be. I opened the door, I admit it, but who came through that door? Only yourselves. Am I to blame for the person you were and are and will be? I don't think so.

Now she's creeping up the stairs. I can hear her raspy whining. She lost a tennis ball up here some days ago. I see it, sitting there at the feet of me-plus-minus-one-and-counting. Let me pour my heart out one more time. I'm sorry, okay? There, I said it. I'm sorry to have made the greatest discovery since sliced sourdough toast. I'm sorry I opened up that rip in the space-time continuum which led to this pouring forth of all our future selves. I feel bad about the people who had to watch their deaths relentlessly approaching, just as I am witnessing my own even now as I write these words. I'm sorry for all the suffering, and for having become the ultimate killjoy. I didn't mean for all this to happen.

Or maybe I did.

Yes, I think I must have.

I did it all on purpose.

Because I wanted to know.

And now I do.

And there she is.

The little brat.

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