Ten years ago, Julie had been 15 and he had been 10. He adored his sister, which seemed pretty unusual because at his age, most boys hated their older sisters, but not Andy.
Mom had died when he was a baby and Dad did his best, but Dad’s idea of parenting was working hard at his job so he could pay the bills. He really didn’t know how to comfort him when he skinned his knee at age 3 or to praise him when he came home with two A’s and three B’s on his first grade report card.
Julie knew how, even though she was so young herself. Julie and Andy only had each other and for a long time, that was enough.
When she started high school, Julie discovered social media, and that’s when her real problems began. She wasn’t a very attractive or popular girl. She was overweight, not a lot, but enough for the mean kids to call her “fatty.”
Like a lot of teens, she had a problem with acne. With no Mom, no sisters, and no close female friends, she really didn’t know how to dress to not get teased. Dad didn’t understand and felt that the “serviceable” clothes he bought for her were fine.
So Julie was tortured. If it was just at school, she might have been able to handle it, but she’d become a social media junkie. The Internet offered her a world of escape face-to-face life lacked, but as it turned out, that escape turned out to be a trap.
Andy wanted to help, but he was 10 and couldn’t plumb the depths of a teenage girl’s anguish and despair.
She committed suicide just a week before Andy’s 11th birthday. As much as she loved her brother, her pain and loneliness was stronger than that love.
Julie’s death didn’t break Andy’s Dad, but it did drive him further away from his son and further into his job, chores around the house, anything to keep him busy. Anything that is, except spending time with his only remaining child.
Andy read the hateful messages on Julie’s Facebook and twitter accounts. He despised those stupid bitches, especially Shawna O’Malley, the ringleader of the “mean girls,” but they were high school students and he was only in fifth grade. He couldn’t do anything and his Dad refused to do anything.
Andy found the time machine in the basement of a warehouse. It was no ordinary warehouse. It was a haven for street artists, dancers, actors, an affordable haven for the disenfranchised trying to make a name for themselves or just a safe place to create and to be. One of those people was 20-year-old Andy.
Even to Andy’s casual eye, the place looked like a fire trap. Only one set of rickety stairs went up to the second floor residences. One way in and one way out. No fire escapes.
No one knew about the stairs that went down. Andy found them by accident when he tripped and fell against a boarded up section of wall, except it wasn’t a wall, it was a doorway.
He waited until everyone had left, or were asleep upstairs, or too engrossed in their own projects to notice him. He got a flashlight and a pry bar. The doorway leading down was in an isolated section of the first floor, so he’d have plenty of privacy.
He pulled at the boards just enough to make a space for him to enter, then pulled them back after he went through.
The stairs were concrete, so they were solid compared to the worn wooden stairs that went to the second floor.
He reached the bottom. The dust, dirt, cobwebs, and neglect spoke of a space that hadn’t been visited by a human being in years.
The space was mainly empty. If it could be wired for lighting and power, it would make a great expansion space for the Colony (as everyone called the warehouse and its denizens).
He saw a lumpy shape in one corner, an object covered by some sort of tarp. Andy had to yell to scare a rat away before he could uncover his find.
It looked like some sort of harness designed to fit over the shoulders and chest. A control panel was mounted on an extension in front sort of like a tray. Curious, Andy tried it on after dusting it off.
The harness seemed in remarkably good shape but he had no idea what it was made of. Not exactly metal or plastic but something else.
It was actually pretty comfortable, and when Andy finished strapping himself in, the control panel lit up.
Years, months, days, hours, minutes, seconds. Sort of like the control panel in Doc Brown’s DeLorean.
Andy wasn’t absolutely positive it was a time machine or if it was, if it would work, but ten years later, he’d still wake up in the middle of the night screaming Julie’s name. If there was any chance to save her, he’d take it.
He removed the harness and wrapped in the tarp. It was late. Hardly anyone around. He managed to get his baggage out of the Colony unseen.
He hadn’t been home in months, but now he had a reason to go back. He put the time machine in the trunk of his car, which ran just well enough to get him places if he didn’t push it too hard.
It was after three in the morning when he got home. He still had his key but decided not to use. it. He had a time machine and if he could just go back in time to before Julie died, he might be able to change history. It wouldn’t matter if he were in the backyard or inside the house.
Years, months, days, hours, minutes, seconds. Andy put on the machine and set it for the morning of August 26, 2016, a Friday. School wouldn’t start until next week, and Julie wouldn’t meet Shawna O’Malley and the mean girls until she began classes next week.
Easy controls. Just an “Initiate” button. He pushed it.
It’s not that Andy really felt anything, but it was like he’d suddenly woken up, as if he’d fallen asleep for a moment and hadn’t realized it.
The backyard was different. The color of the house had changed. He remembered playing in that backyard. He remembered that it took his Dad almost a week to paint the house, working on it everyday after he came home from his job.
Dad never changed the locks on the house, so his key should still work.
Just a minute after eleven. Dad would be at work and Julie and Andy had taken the bus and BART to the mall to do shopping for school supplies. Dad had already bought their clothes, much to Julie’s embarrassment, but he trusted her with the cash to buy everything else for school.
Older Andy unlocked the backdoor. He needed only two things, Dad’s big overcoat and his .45 caliber handgun. He had a plan. He knew where Shawna hung out in the afternoons. It was at a small diner just a few blocks away. Andy was going to kill her.
He’d probably look ridiculous walking outside wearing a big coat in August, but he needed to kill Shawna and then escape back into the future.The coat would cover the harness he was wearing. After all, he had to shoot her in front of dozens of people and then jump forward in time. He couldn’t take the chance of trying to find her when she was alone.
The hours passed. Andy used the bathroom, made himself a sandwich (he figured raiding the fridge was a pretty minor change of history compared to committing murder), got on the Internet using his sister’s laptop (he still remembered her password) and surfed the old-fashioned web of ten years ago.
Finally 3 p.m. rolled around. He knew younger Andy and Julie wouldn’t be home until after four. Their return home after shopping would be delayed by a major breakdown in the BART rail system leaving them stranded in Oakland for hours. Dad wouldn’t get back home from work until at least 6:30.
Andy went out the front door and locked it behind him. He had found out he could fold the control panel of the harness against his chest, making the unit a little more compact. He was sweating dressed in Dad’s heavy coat at the hottest time of day, but it didn’t matter.
He had already set the controls back to the present, so all he had to do was walk into the dinner, stroll up to Shawna, pull the gun out of his coat pocket, shoot that filthy bitch, and then press the Initiate button.
He ignored the stares his strange appearance elicited. Maybe people thought he was homeless, mentally ill, or both. He didn’t care. Just two blocks straight, turn right, go one block more, and there he was.
Andy opened the doors to the vintage 1950s-style diner. Retro was very “in” that year. A bell rang signaling his entry so all eyes momentarily turned to him.
“Hey, buddy! Think you’re gonna freeze?”
Andy didn’t even bother to look in the direction of that punk. He was staring straight at Shawna O’Malley. Once she was dead, he figured the rest of the mean girls would lose heart and leave Julie alone.
He walked to their table and felt the hate welling up inside as they made eye contact.
“What the fuck to you want?”
Like most attractive, popular girls Andy knew from his own high school experience, she thought she was too good for anyone but her clique.
“This.” Andy pulled the handgun and put three in her chest. One of the few things his Dad ever did was to teach him how to shoot, and Andy knew that .45 very well.
Everyone started screaming. Most people were running from Andy, but he could hear heavy running steps approaching him from behind. He’d be gone before they could grab him.
Andy opened the coat, flipped out the control panel, already set to ten years in the future, and pressed “Initiate”.
Nothing happened except that he was tackled from behind by two, bulky teenage football players and wrestled to the floor.
Andy struggled but he couldn’t move. His right hand, still holding the gun, was pinned under his chest.
He heard sirens. Someone must have called 911.
Andy couldn’t escape back into the future but he had inadvertently given the Government a prize, a working time machine. Unfortunately, when they examined the circuitry, they’d find a fault. It could only go back in time but not forward.
The harness had been abandoned by its previous owner when the fault occurred and stranded her in 2008. She had hidden it in the hopes of finding the correct materials among the primitive tech of the early 21st century, so she could make repairs and go home. But as a hapless pedestrian, she’d been hit and killed by a drunk driver less than ten minutes after concealing the machine and leaving the then abandoned warehouse.
He’d go to prison. He had no defense and didn’t intend to offer one or an explanation about his fingerprints not being on file, or the date of birth on his driver’s license saying he should be ten years old. At least he had saved Julie. She wouldn’t commit suicide. She wouldn’t leave him. She would keep taking care of him. Now maybe younger Andy would grow up to actually be someone.