Winter's Storybook: The Duffel Bag
Updated: Jan 8, 2019
| by Winter Lawrence | Adult Science Fiction |
Time travel is a tricky thing. The mechanics behind it, which I had only recently mastered, still boggle my mind, and don’t get me started on the equipment! The expense is one thing, but the pollution is another. The minerals and materials involved are difficult to obtain; both physically and legally, and there's radioactive waste to deal with too.
It was all so complicated, and the longer I fought to commercialize it, the more resistance I faced. My greatest adversary, Congressman Brad Winston, was bound and determined to shut me down because of the moral and environmental implications that came along with it. His arguments against time travel were a huge problem for my company and, on a personal front, were a bit of a sore spot, since Brad just so happened to be my former best friend; the guy I had lived next door to my entire adolescent and college life.
I can't help but wonder if my current mission would be easier if I didn’t know who I was coming back to kill. I mean, Brad isn’t a bad guy . . . in truth, he's one of those good guys, you know, the kind that always makes everyone look like they're behind the curve, especially guys like me — capitalists always quick to overlook the little things when it comes to the bottom line. Like murder.
I sigh again as I slowly gaze around my childhood bedroom, trying to will away the unsettling vertigo and nausea that always accompanies a time-jump. I know that it's due to my brain trying to adjust to being inside my thirteen-year-old body again, which sadly, is one of the many negative side effects of time travel — intellectually, the older a person is, the harder it is to fully embrace the mind-meld that comes with time-jumping, but at least I feel young again, and I'm pumped and ready to go . . . well, once the vertigo passes anyway.
My thirteen-year-old eagle eyes settle on the glow-in-the-dark stars that are glued onto the blades of my ceiling fan. God. This is the third time I’ve tried to change Brad’s mind — so that I can return to a future where I control time travel without some tree-hugging ex-best friend out to derail my life’s work.
Without warning, my bedroom door suddenly flies open, my other best friend, River, now in his thirteen-year-old body, staggers into the room. “Hey,” River slurs, undoubtedly still hungover from the mind-meld, but there's something else in his eyes too; something akin to desperation. “Where’s your sister?” he asks.
I scramble into a seated position, my head spinning from the exertion, but when I catch sight of my alarm clock, a sudden clarity dawns on me. I look back at River, just as wild-eyed. “It’s only 3:18,” I state matter-of-factly, trying to figure out how he could be twelve minutes early.
River stumbles over to the bed and drops onto the mattress. “I know,” he says. “That's not important right now, though. Where’s Morgan?”
I involuntarily shrug in that way a little brother does when he doesn’t know or care about his sister’s whereabouts, but then I give that question some serious thought, since knowing the timeline is crucial for success. Morgan should be in her room, doing whatever teenage girls do; Mom should be down in the kitchen, starting dinner; Dad is still at work. River, who had time-jumped with me, was supposed to wake up in his body, back at his house, at 3:13. Between shaking off the negative effects of the mind-meld and then walking over to my place, he shouldn't have gotten here until 3:30, then we were supposed to head to the creek to keep Brad from finding the damn red-eared slider that had suffocated in a tangle of plastic and garbage. Our hope was that sparing Brad that gruesome discovery would ease his tree-hugging ways in the future, because if it didn’t, then I’d have to resort to Plan B.
As that thought flits through my still-aching head, I glance toward the foot of the bed, expecting to find the large duffel bag I use for my street hockey gear. I had done the calculations in the future, so I knew that the bag would nicely conceal my father’s rifle, just in case I needed it for Plan B, but the bag isn't where it's supposed to be.
“Something’s wrong,” River says, as if reading my mind.
I nod an agreement as I scoot off the bed and take stock of my room. The hockey gear that should have been in the bag is now haphazardly thrown all over the floor in the corner of my room. I stare at it for a long second before I pull on my sneakers and walk over to examine the pile — my stomach sinking in a different way now as I try to reassess all of these new developments.
“Let’s go,” River orders as he gets onto his feet, steadier now.
When he hurries out of the room, I manage to keep pace with him even though I'm still a little woozy. He runs into my father’s office and then slams open the already-unlocked gun cabinet, one of the rifles missing from its slot.
“Dammit!” River grunts just before he takes off again, this time toward the kitchen. My mother startles as we rush into the room. “Where’s Morgan?” he demands.
My mother, who's a quiet, reserved woman, looks utterly astonished by River’s uncharacteristically brazen behavior. “She...she left a few minutes ago...” Mom manages as she looks at him crossly, “to a friend’s—”
“Dammit!” River whips around and practically rips the back door off its hinges. Then he takes off toward the woods, shouting my sisters name over and over again.
I note my mother’s absolutely horrified expression just before I give chase, but no matter how fast I run, I can't catch up to him. “River, wait!” I plead, but that only seems to propel him forward, the gap between us growing monumentally as he practically flies through the thick, wooded field.
He breaks through the clearing well before I do, but even with the distance, I can see the thirteen-year-old version of Brad sitting cross-legged on the bank, stroking a turtle’s head. In that moment, I can't tell if the infamous suffocated turtle or not, but that question is the least of my concerns as I eye my father's rifle, which is resting by Brad’s feet.
“Where is she?” River asks as he takes the last few steps toward Brad.
Without acknowledging us, Brad calmly sets the turtle aside and then reaches for the rifle. As he seemingly admires my father's weapon, I step beside River and then watch on in horror as Brad aims the weapon at me. There's a sad-looking smile etched onto his chubby face when he says, “At least we saved him this time around.” He uses the gun to motion toward the turtle.
I'm so confused by all of the sudden turn of events that I just stand there, wondering how Brad had managed to travel back in time, to this very moment, so that he could be orientated enough to save the turtle. That revelation brings other poignant questions to mind, like how had he gotten my father’s gun? Only my sister and I knew the combination to the safe.
“Where is she?” River demands, his voice cracking in that way it always does when he’s about to cry. “Tell me!” he shouts. “Because none of this was part of the plan!”
Brad keeps the rifle trained on me, but he finally looks at River. “She came to me because she knew that there would be no future for you two if she didn’t intervene.” He uses his chin to motion downstream, toward my submerged duffel bag. “And I knew there was no future for any of us — not if we went back.”
River moans as he staggers forward. “What’s in the bag, Brad?” he pleads, his voice sounding strangled as he inches farther into the water. As he continues ahead, a sob escapes him, probably because he knows what he's about to find.
I do. I'm not sure how, but intuitively I know that my sister's body is in that duffel bag and that she's dead. Worse yet, I suddenly realize that I've been double-crossed — possibly triple-crossed; I'm sure if I had a moment, I could figure it out. Unfortunately, time is suddenly something I don't have the luxury of anymore.
As River kneels beside the duffel bag, Brad re-trains the weapon on him and then pulls the trigger. A splatter of blood and brain matter sprays outward then River lands face-first in a gentle splash, just inches shy of my sister.
My stomach retches at the scene before me, but I somehow manage to keep from hurling.
“I always knew you were a selfish bastard, Kevin,” Brad says as he aims the rifle back at me. “Even when we were kids, I knew.”
I hold my hands up and start backing away. “Brad . . . let’s talk about this . . .” My mind races as I search for the right thing to say, which thankfully comes to me just in the nick of time. “You can’t get back without me!” I blurt out. “If I die here, then I won’t ever grow up and master time travel, which means you’d be stuck —”
“I know,” Brad interjects, and then he pulls the trigger.