"AHHH! WHAT WHAT WHY IS EVERYTHING OVER-SATURATED?!" I screamed, blindly swinging my fists in what was hopefully a successful attempt to punch time in the face.
When the blindness faded, I found myself in a filthy bathroom with an angry man pounding on the locked door, screaming for me to come out and "take what was comin' to me." A pattern of beeps sounded from inside the bathtub. Hoping to find the source of all this confusion or at least see some robot titties mid-shower, I swung open the curtain to find a paunchy middle-aged man tapping keys on a stupidly large and unwieldy handheld device, like an 80s-era cell phone or an iPad.
I locked eyes with him, and we stood immobilized for a long moment, each unsure of how to proceed. I thought about introducing myself, but I had apparently started taking swings at him already. To my astonishment, they passed directly through him like he was non-existent.
"Ghost!" I accused, my fists swinging in and out of where his crotch should be.
"I'm not a ghost, I'm a hologram. My name is - would you stop that?- My name is Al and I'm here to guide you back home."
A hologram that appears to be glitching by the looks of that jacket.
"Home? Shit, did I fall asleep in somebody else's house again? Or..." I trailed off, getting a glimpse of what should have been me in the mirror, but was instead a haggard old housewife air-punching a bathtub, "...somebody else's body?"
"I'm afraid it's worse than that. Last night you broke into our research facility and were accidentally sent back in time. You're now leaping backward into the past, occupying the bodies of the people here. You have to fix something that's gone wrong in each of their lives to correct the timestream and get back home. This body is... let's see: Ah, Millicent Howdry. She's a housewife from Michigan."
"I can't fix having a retard name or being a woman."
"That is... horrible. No, your husband is an abusive ex-con. Ziggy here says he has to get what's coming to him before you can leap out."
"Ha ha, you read Ziggy? The big-headed guy in the comic strip? Gay. Do you watch Home Improvement too?"
"No," the man sighed, tapping impatiently on his device, "Ziggy is the name of the computer back in our time."
"Whatever, Blinky. So I've gotta give this guy 'what's coming to him' and then I can go? Cool."
That's right: Blinky reference. You're welcome.
"Yes." he said, peering down at the tiny screen and rattling off the information he saw there. "Ziggy says he's been abusing Milli for 10 years and she doesn't have the courage to leave him, so simply standing up to him and reporting him to the police should theoretically put the timestream back..."
His voice trailed off into the distance as I opened the bathroom door and stepped quietly out. I could hear the husband stomping around the kitchen, an empty gin bottle thrown down in anger on the hallway floor.
"... and that, again purely theoretically, will facilitate the next leap forward." Al finished right as I came back through the doorway. "What did you...? Where the hell did you just go?"
"Family Circus said to sodomize that guy with a liquor bottle, so I did that. We're good. Let's roll."
"You did what?!"
"Yeah, your PDA was all 'give him what he deserves' so I just cracked him with a frying pan, used some dish soap for lube and then I used kind of a twisting motion, like inserting a corkscrew to really jam-"
"Good lord, no! You were supposed to report him to the police! You can't just-" he stopped short, noticing that the room had suddenly begun flashing and blurring around him.
"Wait, that worked? What?! It was 'restraining order' OR 'forced sodomy'? Seriously, Ziggy?" He was still protesting to the ether as the world bled out into a shining static gray.
"Oh boy," I said, taking in my surroundings. They were utterly wretched. Fecal matter lined the walls, garbage piled up in the corners, and used needles littered the floor--one of which was still sticking out of my arm.
"Jesus, this is terrible," Al muttered, kicking at a dead cat that had apparently been serving as my pillow. "Ziggy says this guy's hit rock bottom, and we gotta dig him out for you to move on."
"Right. Or we could just get him more drugs."
"How... how would that help anything, ever?" Al punched up some more info on his giant flamboyant Lego remote.
"Ziggy says he's hit rock bottom, but man, you ever notice how people only say they 'hit rock bottom' when they're sober? Nobody says that shit high."
"Shit being high feels fantastic! Four things, though: 1. Get your hands off my shit 2. Let's dance! 3. Let's wrestle! 4. GO!"
"I don't think Ziggy means you should-"
"Hey check it out! He had a baggy hidden in his sock. Must've forgot about it," I told Al, already cooking down the stuff.
"There's no way shooting heroin is going to fix the fucking timestream and ARE YOU KIDDING ME," the world started to run together again, little lightning bolts began to arc from my fingertips, one of which was prominently raised and playfully dancing in Al's direction as I faded away.
It was the middle one.
"OK, no. Something is not right here; I have to figure this out," Al muttered to himself, rapidly tapping, shaking and swearing at his little buzzkill box.
I wasn't sure what decade we were in, where I was, what I was supposed to be doing or indeed, even aware of my own identity, but I was pretty sure I could steal historic valuables if I swallowed them and smuggled them through time inside my body, so I was doing that.
"What's up now?" I asked Al, nonchalantly dipping a necklace in Canola Oil and forcing it down.
"I asked Ziggy why you keep leaping when you're not fixing anything and he said 'fuck it; close enough.'"
"Ha! Sounds like my kinda guy," I said, horking down an earring.
"He's not a guy; he's a goddamn computer, and at no point was 'fuck it' one of the logistically programmed responses from the world's most advanced thinking machine."
"You know what I think? I think you're interpreting Ziggy's requests through your own moral filter when he only cares about fixing the timebrooks."
The glowing time shit. Very important that it keeps glowing, or whatever.
"Right. Timewater. Aces. Here, let me show you what I mean: What's the exact request this time?"
"Fine. You're Henrietta Paulding and you love your husband very much, but you feel you're losing his interest. According to this, he leaves Henrietta tonight. If you don't find some way to prevent that, she kills herself. Basically, you have to rekindle their affection. Show them they still love each other."
"No, see, you added that last bit. What I heard was 'have to keep a dude interested in his boring wife.' Is the guy here?"
"Yeah, he's in the next room, but Ziggy says that-"
"Sure sure. Tell Garfield that I got this one. Hey honey?" I yelled down the hallway.
"Yes dear?" answered the weary, toneless voice.
"How's about we have a three-way with that hot friend you've always secretly wanted to bone that I'm assuming I have?"
"Wha- FUCK YES!" There was the sound of a chair tipping over, followed by sprinting footsteps and some frantic fumbling for the phone.
A look of heartbreak passed over Al's face as I pointed at the little zig-zags of electricity cropping up all around me.
"Can you see them, Al? Can you hear them? Listen, Al: They're talking. They're saying 'suck dicks, Al.'"
"This is not the will of a loving God!" He protested.
"Jesus, dude. Will you stop moping? You've been curled up in the fetal position for the last three leaps. Grow a time-sack."
"S'not right," Al muttered, broken.
"This is totally gonna work," I promised him, applying the lipstick in the mirror.
"She's a single mom. Lost her job. Sexual Harassment. Should bring the boss to justice."
"Gotta pay rent."
"Should get an education."
"Should get about two grand an hour."
"HOW DOES STARTING AN AMATEUR PORN CAREER GET HER LIFE BACK ON TRACK?"
"She's got a kickin' body, loves to fuck, needs cash and has some daddy issues to work out. That's like the most basic porno equation and the answer is 'boning.' I just hope I leap before I end up with a dick in my mouth again."
"I still submit there was absolutely no way that could've helped you win that horse race."
"We'll let history decide. Hey, you think they pay extra for DP?"
"Listen, man: I talk to this Time Ghost that takes orders from Marmaduke, and he says your father never approved of you. Verbally abused you all your life. Really messed you up, right? Well, I've got two words that are going to make everything better: Vehicular. Manslaughter."
When the light show faded, I found myself in a veritable palace of cold glass and shining steel. A haggard man who looked like he hadn't slept in years eyed me with a dead expression.
"You're back. We did it." He said flatly, taking a belt from a flask.
"You're home. It's over. Goodbye."
"THERE. IS. ONE. MORE. THING," a computerized voice echoed throughout the technological cathedral, "PLEASE. TURN. AROUND."
I did so, and saw an ad-hoc steel contraption--little more than a pair of tank treads hooked to an articulating arm--rumbling towards me. Mounted on the tip of the arm was a silicone hand--fingers straight, palm out. The arm rose up unsteadily, coming to rest in a vertical position. Though the movement had stopped, the silicone still jiggled slightly from the momentum.
I smiled, and gave Ziggy his high five.
Al wept silently.
I'm pretty sure he built it just for this occasion. How can you leave that hanging?
"And that's why I was late to work!" I finished explaining to my boss and Editor in Chief, Jack O'Brien.
"Robert," He said, lifting his head from the desk.
"You were 10 minutes late to work. That story took two hours and 43 minutes to tell."
"I would've accepted 'traffic was bad."
"Traffic was bad, boss."
He sighed so loud and so hard that I swore he tore something. A wave of fury seemed to wash over him, but quickly turned to resignation. He motioned me out, and I bounced happily away to do my "job"--which I think is some sort of demolitions? I try not to ask too many questions, so everybody thinks I know what I'm doing. I also try not to pass out in the bathroom, but sometimes it's Monday.
Ha ha! So, you workin' hard or hardl- wait... no that's seriously alcohol poisoning. Call an ambulance.
When the door clicked shut, Jack swiveled his chair to face the windows. He hadn't shaved today. Yesterday either. It was difficult to get motivated, some mornings. Outside the glass, a small black bird leapt from its perch on the sill and took quiet wing, tilting madly in the whirling eddies before rocketing downward out of view. For a long, peaceful moment, Jack contemplated flight.
"Mr. O'Brien?" The intercom buzzed.
"Yes, Janice?" Jack replied automatically. He closed his eyes and willed all the solace of silence to seep into his cells, to soothe his fraying mind.
"Daniel O'Brien is here. He says he needs to see you. He's very insistent. And sir? He's got a... a box with him. It appears to be hissing."
"Send him in," Jack sighed, his fists briefly balling, but ultimately lacking the strength to clench.
"Jackatoa! What's crackin' homeslice? Listen," DOB began, waddling into the room lugging the unwieldy, rattling, makeshift cage, "I got a quick but possibly life-threatening question for you: What do you know about possums? Is it a lot? I hope it's a lot."
You can pre-order Robert's book, Everything is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead on Amazon, or find him on Twitter, Facebook and his own site, I Fight Robots or you could just drink cough syrup and watch the SyFy channel, same diff.