about the author

Justin Lawrency Daugherty has an MFA in fiction from Northern Michigan University. His flash fiction has appeared or is forthcoming from Bluestem, SmokeLong Quarterly, and LITnIMAGE. His creative nonfiction has appeared in The Normal School, Hot Metal Bridge, and Used Furniture Review.

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Theories on the Possibility of Time Travel

Justin Lawrence Daugherty

Arlo set the gas can down in the dirt. The dust whirled around us like a sandstorm. He handed me a lighter and said, “dowse me and light.”

Cain looked at me and shrugged I don’t know, I don’t know. He lit a cigarette. Its smoke sunk into the swirling dust. Arlo waited, tapping the palm of his left hand with his fingers. We all wanted rain. There were wildfires eating the landscape. Rain like in the Bible.

“Once you light me on fire, you can throw me to the ground and stomp the fire out,” Arlo said. He said he would roll and roll. Arlo experienced déjagrave; vu constantly like some people have joint pain. He wanted a unique experience, something totally beyond the possibility that he’d experienced this all before. The wildfires gave him an idea.

Cain mentioned something about wormholes and special relativity. He talked about time travel. He talked about killing his grandfather in the past and erasing himself. We called him Cain because his twin brother died in their mother’s womb and he figured it was his fault.

Arlo remarked on the lack of clouds in the sky. He picked up the gas can and raised it above his head. I could almost smell the clouds of ash from the fires floating on the wind.

I thought of my easy marriage then. Not easy like no problems, but easy like we’d decided—both of us—against being exceptional.

Arlo showered himself in gasoline. If lightning struck him, would our fields of vision explode? Would the world go white or red or both?

Cain said that if he could go back in time to watch his mother’s stomach expand, he would save his brother.

“But you can’t go back to a time before a machine was created,” Arlo said. “Everyone knows that.”

Cain rubbed his chin. He had mud on his fingers. His cigarette smoldered in his other hand, the cherry turning gray. I could imagine the wind’s hands grasping the cigarette and blasting it through the air onto Arlo’s shirt. Coyotes sang their out-of-tune melodies somewhere in the dark. “If I could...”

“But you can’t,” Arlo said. “Are either of you going to help me or do I have to set myself on fire?”

Cain looked to me, giving permission. My wife gave me daily celebrity relationship updates. I was too lazy to start an affair with my editorial assistant. We had lists of names for our potential children, boys and girls lists. The lighter sat like a coin in my hand. If I made a wish and tossed it in a fountain, would anything come true?

Cain said something about multiple worlds and time dilation. Arlo shook his head. He put out his hand, searching for an offering. I put the lighter in my pocket.

“Don’t make me come after it,” Arlo said. He stepped forward. I put my hands up in a barrier. He came closer.

“There has to be another way,” I said. “Something safer.”

“I knew you’d say that.” He held his hands out, cupped, empty. The coyotes stopped singing. The wind picked up. Everything was silent, eery. The wildfires were close. Arlo grabbed at my pocket and I stepped away and he tried again and again. I tried to push him away and tripped backwards and fell.

Arlo stood with his hands in his pockets. “Shit. Even if you could go back and change what happened to your brother—change anything tragic that happened to you—why would you want to? That’d be boring.”

I removed the lighter and threw it to Cain. He turned away from both of us and flicked the wheel. Nothing happened. Arlo watched him and waited. Cain tried the lighter again but the wind was too much. I stood up and brushed dirt and twigs from my ass. Arlo and I stood there and waited for Cain like parishioners waiting for a pastor to deliver a sermon. After a few more clicks of the wheel, Arlo turned and walked toward the trees, vanishing into the dark. Coyotes stammered and locusts hummed. Cain dropped the lighter in the dirt and went after Arlo. The smell of gasoline all around. Somewhere far away or perhaps somewhere nearby—no one could tell from the ground, until it was too late—the wildfires burned, churning a path across the landscape, hungry, untamed. I picked up the lighter and flicked the wheel. We needed the fire. Or, maybe, we needed the rain, the flood.

I called into the dark. “What if we travelled far ahead in time to where no one would recognize or know us? Our lives would be new, our histories open.” I waited for a response but Arlo and Cain did not say anything, if they even heard. I followed the path into the trees they had walked, the light from the house receding behind me, hands in front of me feeling the way. I thought I heard voices. I was lost in dark. I looked to the stars to find my way.

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