The spoon arched through the air, rotating slowly and flicking droplets of milk and bits of cereal in its wake. It landed with a clang, bounced and splashed, then slid to a stop. A tiny, excited dog immediately pounced and began lapping furiously.
Fred looked at the hand on his shoulder. The hand that shouldn’t be there.
“It’s going to be all right, Fred.”
Fred’s gaze moved up the back of the hand, over the wrist, followed the arm up, and finally rested on his own aged face.
“I can authoritatively tell you that this is as bad as it gets. I’ve come back here to tell you that your life—our life—only gets better from here.”
He hadn’t even changed for work yet and already Fred could tell it was going to be one of those weeks.
“What do you mean you cocked up the date?” asked Fred as he looked at himself in his mirror and adjusted his tie.
Older Fred sat on Fred’s couch and scratched his grey beard thoughtfully.
“The machine messed up,” he explained. “You see, when I told you yesterday that this was as bad as it gets, I thought it was actually next Monday.”
“So this isn’t as bad as it gets?” said Fred.
“Not nearly,” said older Fred.
“Next Monday is as bad as it gets?” said Fred.
“Now you’re catching on,” said older Fred.
Fred brushed his teeth while standing over his couch, which was currently occupied by a loudly snoring older Fred. Fred kicked the couch and woke older Fred up.
“So are you just going to putz around on my couch all week while I’m at work, or are you going to tell me what happens next Monday?” asked Fred.
“Oh, I couldn’t do that,” said older Fred. “Wouldn’t want to mess with the timeline. You know, paradoxes, and all that.”
“Aren’t you already doing that just by being here?” asked Fred.
Older Fred scratched his beard and hummed. “Hadn’t thought of that,” he said.
“Just a hint? Do I get in an accident?” asked Fred.
“I’d better not,” said older Fred.
“Can you at least make yourself useful during the day? Go shopping, or cook dinner before I get home?” asked Fred between mouthfuls of cereal.
“We don’t use money anymore when I’m from, and our cooking only gets worse with time,” said older Fred.
“Oish. Better not, then,” said Fred.
“Don’t take the bus in today,” said older Fred.
Fred froze with his spoon only half-way to his mouth, then placed it back in his cereal bowl. “What did you just say?” he asked.
“I said don’t take the in bus today. Call a taxi.”
Fred shook his head. “What about paradoxes? Altering the timeline and all that?”
“Trust me,” said older Fred. “This one’s worth it.”
“I’m going out tonight, probably won’t be back until late,” said Fred.
“I know,” said older Fred.
“Don’t wait up, then,” said Fred.
“Hang on,” said older Fred. “How are you feeling?”
“Hmm?” said Fred.
“You know, are you feeling okay? Or are you feeling at all… paradoxy?”
“Yeah,” said older Fred. “You know, feeling as though you may be afflicted by some variety of space-time paradox, or something.”
“I can equivocally say that I am not feeling the least bit paradoxy,” said Fred.
“Cool beans,” said older Fred.
Fred got out of bed and found older Fred in the kitchen eating a bagel.
“So why exactly are you still here?” asked Fred. “I mean, you’ve served your purpose right? I now know that by Monday morning I’ll have experienced the absolute lowest point of my life, and it only gets better from there. I get it. Why are you sticking around? I’d think that whatever happens to me before Monday is something you’d prefer to avoid reliving.”
Older Fred put down his bagel and furrowed his brow at Fred.
“Well?” asked Fred.
“Well,” said older Fred, “I gave myself a week to console you. I can’t go back before that’s up.”
“So you’ll be leaving…” said Fred.
“Monday morning,” said older Fred.
Fred nodded. “Want to play some Xbox?”
Older Fred grinned.
“I suppose this is it,” said Fred.
“What’s it?” said older Fred.
Fred took a swig of his beer, swished it around in his mouth a bit, then swallowed.
“It’s Sunday night. Some time between now and tomorrow morning, it’s going to be the worst moment of my entire life.”
“Well, I wouldn’t quite say that,” said older Fred.
“What!” said Fred. “But last Monday you told me…”
“I’m not dead yet!” said older Fred. “It’s entirely possible that I’ll experience an even worse moment some time in my future which, after all, is also your future.”
“Oh,” said Fred, nodding. “Yeah I suppose that makes sense.”
A commercial break started up on the television, and older Fred grabbed the clicker to change channels.
Fred finished his beer and got up to go use the bathroom. He tripped on a tennis ball his dog had been playing with earlier in the middle of the darkened hallway. A number of thoughts flashed through Fred’s mind as he plummeted quickly toward the ground. One of them was: this is going to be quite bad—like skull-shatteringly bad.
Another, slightly more confused thought also jumped to the forefront: if this fall or its aftermath comprise the promised low point in my life, why had older Fred not been confused by my obvious lack of grievous bodily injury when he first arrived?
A brief moment later, Fred was dead.
Older Fred looked on in horror as the tiny dog skidded up to Fred’s broken, oozing head and began lapping furiously.
“I suppose I should have let him take that fucking bus,” said older Fred, then promptly ceased to exist.