Paradox

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That was the worst way to wake up. Mid-dream, a loud thump coming from the living room made Megan jump in her bed, the mind confused between the nice images she was coming from and the darkness of the room, the heart racing from the fright, breathing hard as if she just ran a sprint. Moments in that semi-awake state and she wasn’t even sure there was a noise after all. What time was that? Not even three, she wasn’t supposed to wake up for another four hours at least. She danced in a swirling floor on her way to check was happened. It was all dark, her eyes still adjusting, her brain much more interested in going back to those oneiric land than in find an improbable potential danger. See? Everything is all right, back to bed! Yes, it was just a dark room, but it was your dark room, you would notice any minor change, wouldn’t you? The sheets are still warm, don’t let it spoil back to cold.

Ah, the warmth, the coziness, the way the mattress appears to have you body shape engraved. That dream was gone, but she was able to enter other realms on the almost five hours of sleep she got after the incident. Wait, what? Great, now she was late. Getting dressed and swallowing the breakfast wasn’t so much better than that night’s scare. The coffee only started making effect by the second red light, right when an odd feeling installed itself on the back of her head, something she couldn’t quite get her fingers on. Did she leave the door open again? The kitchen tap open? No, it was not that. It was something else, new, like a picture that seems out of place. But all the concentrating in the world didn’t got her any closer to it, and the work calmed her brain a little. She looked at her hand, the red smudge on her finger proof that she had marked the X on the previous day on the calendar before leaving, so one less thing to worry about.

She was getting tired of those frights. When the telephone rang, she was in that little world of utter concentration, where little exists beyond her computer screen and almost no sound can disturb. She cursed herself for not putting it in silent before checking who was brave enough to enter her domains without being summoned. Cathy the neighbour. Of course. If someone would be so brave, it would surely be her, the antithesis of what Megan believed she was. Cathy was a prize wife, living off her husband, around the house most of the day without really doing anything, taking the car to go to the bakery around the corner, shopping for shoes or dresses or jewelry or whatever it was that woman like her enjoyed these days. Even so, it was strange. Ever since Megan explained to Cathy the meaning of having a job, she never called again. That was the only reason why she pressed the green button.

What was that? No, she wasn’t sick. What did she mean, why Megan was home? She wasn’t! Yes, she was at work, there was no one in her house, they surely should get together sometime, but right then Megan was up until here with work, maybe in a month or two. That woman had an incredible word per minute output, it should be noted. The call not only left Megan tired, but made that tingling sensation on the back of her head return with full power. There was something amiss. And, as crazy as Cathy could be, she was not prone to delusions, at least not the sort where you see things. And she saw someone in Megan’s house. One of the many perks of being uber efficient was knowing you are always a little ahead on your work, enough to be able to leave a little earlier if anything showed up.

The first thing Megan did when she opened the kitchen door was looking at the wall calendar. She had this thing, even with all the technology available and being kind of a gizmo geek, she always had one of those large wall calendars, with a beautiful picture on the top and the grid of days bellow. Some few noticeable events and holidays came printed and Megan added some of her own, should all the tech at her disposal go haywire. There was a thick X made with red permanent marker on the day before. She laughed at her own relieved sigh and started boiling water for a tea. When she passed around the counter to let her bag on the sofa, she noticed a parcel over the coffee table. Weird. She had no recollection of receiving it, but the signature on the receiving slip was definitely hers. It wasn’t a large box, but whatever was inside sure was heavy. There was a letter over the bunch of styrofoam peanuts protecting the content, from an uncle so distant she only remembered the name being said once or twice by her grandmother. He said something about her being the only one in the family with the skills to operate the machine and also the only one who would give the proper attention to the highlighted request to keep it safe. It was a long letter, eight or nine pages front and back. Which meant it was something to be read later. While she was digging the thing from depths of the white curly things, her kettle warned her its water was ready for brewing that delicious tea. It would be in the perfect drinking temperature after she left the shower. She collected the box and the protecting peanuts and left the machine over the kitchen counter.

Few things are more rewarding than a nice shower. It had the power to wash out not only the skin but also the day. It is like a powerful speed charging, something Megan always wished her cellphone had. She came from the bedroom already feeling the strong taste of the earl grey when her heart skipped a beat. The machine was gone. It was right there, a few centimeters from the tea, minutes ago. Her head panned left then right until she spotted the apparatus over the dining table. Was the shower so good she forgot an action she performed so recently? It sure felt like it, but still. She took the tea and the letter and goes to the table. From the third page of the letter forth, her uncle described the machine’s operation, which seemed straightforward enough, but there was something weird about its intent. Relativity displacement, it was called. She was reading the instructions and examining the machine at the same time, tea and letter in one hand, the other turning the gadget around. It was on one of those turns that she accidentally pressed a button. There was a sudden braking feeling, like the inertial movement when a car stops, even if she was standing still. Then, it was the middle of the night.

The teacup, luckily empty, fell from her hand as she was trying to understand what had happened, causing a loud thump in an otherwise silent environment. It was her living room, her table, her rug almost ruined by tea. Everything was the same, except it was like someone had pushed her ever so gently while turning off the sun. She bent to take the cup and heard some noise coming from her bedroom. Could it be? In one swift movement, she hid behind the kitchen counter just in time to not be seen. The clang of the bedroom door told her it was safe to go out and look at the one sure thing in the middle of that craziness. Her wall calendar didn’t have the red X over the day before anymore.

It would be a good time to have some special abilities, like speed reading. Somehow it seemed that the many pages on the letter had doubled, and the content had become suddenly indecipherable. She went over it several times, afraid to touch the machine again before understanding how it worked. Apparently she didn’t have the skills her distant uncle thought she did. It was crazy. And impossible, according to everything she ever heard or read. She wanted to look for other signs, other proofs, but was afraid it would disturb her past self’s slumber.

She waited patiently for the next hours until she had the house for herself again. Pacing around nervously did little to ease Megan, as did reading the letter for the nth time. She went back and forth from the dining table to the living area to the kitchen, so absorbed in trying to solve the situation she didn’t noticed Cathy the neighbour waving continuously at her from across the street. Apart from that one button she accidentally pressed, there weren’t any other inputs or dials on the machine. At least none she could see. There must be a way to travel back. And her uncle was confident she had the skills to operate it. It was clearly a prototype, cables and wires tangled inside a metal structure made from scraps and uneven soldering. There was something in the letter about connecting to a power source and the battery, which didn’t help her anxiety. She was beginning to devise a way to transcript the unordered instructions in the letter in a proper manual when someone knocked on the door.

There was a delivery man outside, according to the magic eye on her door. She hesitates for a few moments before deciding to just act natural. It was still her house, after all. She signs the slip and relieves the man from his burden, which is swiftly transferred to the coffee table. Organizing her ideas, and the ones in the letter, calmed her, like slowly finding a solution to a problem. She began concentrating on the parts about the machine’s operation rather than its purpose, carefully relating each description with the physical thing over the dining table in front of her, and after a few hours she had a good portion of it figured out, but a car parking in the garage interrupted her.

Megan was ready for that moment. After so many hours in confusion, she was finally getting the grip on that whole thing. She moved to the front door as silently as possible, got out and to the back, then to the garage as soon as her other self was inside the house. There she would have plenty of time to finish the work and go back if only she hadn’t forgot the machine inside. Damn, and she thought she was becoming quite an adventurous type. A rookie mistake that almost made her lose her cool. There was no need to panic. From what she remembered, she had a few minutes before being able to do anything, so she continued on the letter. The kettle whistling cued her to get ready. She got near the walls, listening to the steps inside going to the bedroom, then the shower. In one continuous movement, she entered the kitchen, took the machine that was over the counter and went back to the garage.

In the confusion of wires and circuits, her uncle apparently forgot to include an easy way to adjust the settings. He was more interested in testing his relativity displacement theory than building an easily operable machine Luckily, he was thorough enough on his letter to allow her to at least get to the only switch that interested her at the moment. It wasn’t easy, and she wasn’t anywhere near being sure if she was right, but there was only one way to know it. She took a deep breath and pressed the button, feeling the inertial movement transporting her back.

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