For the next few days we used those clickers like it was our job; like we were going to collect time-and-a-half or even holiday-pay. Chet and I had inadvertently become test subjects to what we could only surmise was our own invention. For several nights we tried to wrap our heads around how it could be that we had invented the clickers if we had traveled through time to give them back to ourselves. From watching several documentary movies on the subject, namely the Back to the Future series, we came to the conclusion that we had altered time and thrown ourselves into an infinite time loop. Oh well, damage done, case closed. We were all still alive and the universe had failed to implode.
We quickly moved on from that unpleasant line of thought. I’m really not all that interested in going down in history as ‘the guy who broke time’ and I don’t think Chet’s mom would appreciate it if I got her son into that historical bind.
Instead, we focused on the fact that we were the inventors of these really handy little clickers. Whether they originated in our timeline or in some parallel existence we couldn’t say. We didn’t care. We were college students. If things haven’t changed, college students aren’t known for caring too much about the long term; at least not in their underclass years. If we had split off from the original time line. . . Or had we always existed in this loop? I mean, who really knows. So, we split off. No big deal, right? Yeah, we weren’t any worse for wear and with clickers in hand I would say we came out ahead of the house on this little gamble.
As a History major we are taught to look at those pivotal moments when a single decision can drastically alter what the future will look like. We had reached one of those crossroads. Time’s a river and rivers adjust, so we’d be alright. After a while I think we both just gave up on trying to be philosophical. Thinking too hard is a surefire way to give yourself a headache and Chet and I were on the brink of meltdown. So the whole concept of timelines and alternate parallelisms was back-burnered.
Honestly, we haven’t taken it off the back-burner and that was nearly thirty years ago.
Instead of investing time and energy on what we couldn’t change we focused on what we could do with our new toys. I’m not sure they would be classified as toys, but we sure used them that way. In our hands sat the love child of Comicon and a top secret government research facility with Area 51 stepping up as godfather. The only difference was these weren’t a stretch of the imagination. They were functional tools. The clickers proved to be a hypothetical that to us had just leapt past the theoretical, had taken a left at actuality, and had read-ended us in the functional. Granted we would have to someday figure out the science behind the clickers, but the ins and outs, that didn’t take us too long.
No more than fifteen minutes, actually. Chet and I took a late night stroll and ended up on the practice fields behind the Mayhew Sports Arena, shielded from the prying eyes of anyone out for a three AM stroll.
Yup, there we were, out in the middle of the night trying to kill ourselves with stupidity. Luckily someone had forgotten to turn the field lights off. After my collision with the door I was now glad a series of late August thunderstorms had softened up the turf. I think we both knew we were in for a long night.
First order of business, we played with the extent the shimmering tunnels could be stretched. I found the hundred yard mark to be about the limit of safe use. After that point I wasn’t able to brace for the snap-back and was consistently thrown from my feet. I figured that out after a couple tries. My first trip took me out almost a hundred and fifty yards before I felt like I was wading through a deep marsh at low tide. When I clicked out I was unceremoniously launched another forty or fifty yards by the snap-back. After sliding on my face through mud and turf, and leaving a long furrow that I knew the grounds-keeper would complain about, I decided to never stretch the bubble that far again.
Chet was likewise launched off his feet just after I was. He, however, was propelled by uncontrollable fits of laughter. I did what any good friend would do. I grabbed a handful of mud and proceeded to plaster it all over his face. He stopped laughing. With a laugh of my own I dodged the return fire by quickly clicking out. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to be a little more careful.
Chet discovered he couldn’t make it quite as far as I could when he clicked in and tried to hunt me down. Now, I’m not a physicist, and I’m fairly certain Chet isn’t either, so we couldn’t give a mathematical reason for the different distances, but we just assumed that having a larger body mass gave him more momentum and potential energy to be unleashed at the snap-back. I think it would be something similar to a heavier car taking longer to stop when slamming on the brakes.
After a few tries we agreed to keep our experiments within the established limit of the football field, figured it might help avoid an untimely death or two.
Next we put the clickers through a series of controlled tests: circles, loops, double backs, jumps, and finally we found out what happens when you cross paths. I’ll get to the crossed paths in a minute.
Clumsiness taught us that a dropped clicker immediately ejected the individual from whatever dimension we were jumping into. Most interesting though, we found that when we both clicked in we could see each other’s shimmering, watery tunnels as we bore through time and space. In our own tunnels the air shimmered a little, but even when you looked backwards you couldn’t see your own tunnel. If I had to venture a guess I would say the visible tunnels were formed by our rapid displacement of molecules.
Next time I think of it I’ll ask one of the physics majors if he could shed some light on the matter.
“Rifters,” Chet said as he clicked out on one of the test runs.
“What are you talking about?”
“When we’re in there it’s like we’re carving rifts through time and space. Nothing applies when we’re in there.”
“So Rifters?” I asked him with a shrug
“Yeah, let’s call them Rifters,” he looked at me without an ounce of humor on his face.
From that moment, and it was a historically pivotal moment, the clickers were known as Rifters in our little circle of two. So with a smile we went back to rifting. We were having a grand old time, taking turns disappearing, reappearing, and trying to startle each other, even though we could easily see if we both rifted at the same time. Then trouble hit.
Crossing paths. It really does seem like a simple, logical step from our previous experiments. We were horsing around, pushing the limits. The next thing we knew we were both lying flat on our backs. It didn’t seem to matter that I had crossed the rift wall well behind where I could see Chet moving forward. After a little research a few years down the line we discovered that when we rifted our bodies occupied the entire rift space. The whole time each rift was opened by the person with the clicker that person was stretched through time to the place where the rift was clicked closed. Too bad we hadn’t read the instruction manual. I lay on the ground with blood streaming from a badly busted nose. Chet, a few yards away, gasped for air, claiming that I had broken his ribs. Turns out they were just severely bruised.
That ended our playful sortie for the night. We limped back to our room and from there made our way on to the hospital. Our new toys came back out to play in less than a week.
Pranks are so much more fun when the sky is the limit. We substituted marinara covered golf balls on meatball sub day; snuck into the girls dorm and in a slight modification of the time honored panty-raid, soaked the entire dorm’s underwear in water and then put them in each girl’s freezer; and our coup de grace, we stole the president’s desk and moved it into the middle of the quad while he was sitting at it. Man, you should have seen his face when he looked up. Priceless. These acts made for a mystified student body on our little campus. Needless to say, we had become gods in our own eyes.
Therein lay the trouble.
I’m not sure when the immensity of our dilemma hit us? Maybe it was a couple weeks into our madness. It was the first time since I’d been a kid when I wish life was like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure. I wanted nothing more at that point than to stick my finger into the page I was on and examine the two or three options I had laid out before me to pick the most appealing one. Every outcome I could predict had some pretty serious cons. Unfortunately, predicting future outcomes was not one of the features our future-selves had built into the Rifters. I would have to remember that.
Funny thing, the future that ran into us was one that neither Chet nor I could have predicted. I’ll get to that in a minute though; let me finish up this part of the story.
Before I forget, this part might put a few things later into perspective.
“You know what we could do with these if we really wanted to?” I asked Chet quietly one afternoon. We were sitting in the Caf, studying for our first chapter test in Western Heritage and waiting for the rest of our cohort to show up for dinner.
“I do,” he responded in a similarly hushed tone. “Knowing you, I was waiting for this conversation to pop up.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, attempting to affect an injured look, but knew my wicked grin was threatening to ruin the mock scowl. “Are you implying that I lack morals? What am I, some sort of heartless sociopath?”
“I wasn’t going to go that far, but if I my quote one Mr. Havisham, ‘I have no qualms, I have no morals, I’d . . .”
“Alright, alright,” I interrupted him quickly.
“All I’m saying is that sometimes what you think is fun can go a little too far and people end up getting hurt.”
“Name one,” I said flatly, although I knew he had enough to write a book, or at least a very long short story, and we had only known each other a month or so.
“The coffee shop lady,” he said without hesitation. “You put that disgustingly huge and dead sewer rat in the display case and she had to clean it out. That thing must have weighted a good ten pounds.”
“I won’t short you on the weight, but in my defense I thought Bobby always opened the shop. There was no way I could have known he would call in sick and she would have to deal with that.”
“See what I mean. You don’t think things through and look at all the possible outcomes. People get hurt.”
“She didn’t get hurt,” I protested.
“Well, that wasn’t a look of pleasure on her face when she had to disinfect the whole display case.”
“And what about that closet door you opened when we raided the girl’s dorm . . .” Chet left the sentence hanging heavy in the air.
“Seriously,” I said, leaning back in my chair and shaking my head. “She looked like she was just standing there. So I forgot to close the door. There was no way I could have predicted that she was going to jump forward and rail her face off the corner. Sheesh, the way you frame it you make me out to be some super-villain who sneaks into places to leave doors open for people to walk into.”
“I vant to be za Mad Doorererer,” I said, trying to lighten the oppressive mood with a funny, but poor, attempt at a Dracula accent.
“She needed stitches, Mike.”
“What do you suggest I do?” I asked, a serious look in my eye.
“You just have to be more careful,” Chet replied. “We all do.”
“And that is why I brought this up,” I said, leaning forward and dropping my voice. “We need to establish some ground rules so we don’t have to worry about this kind of thing. Or at least so we don’t have to worry about the bigger temptations like cheating on this test we’re studying for.”
“Ok, how about this: nothing that could directly lead to someone getting hurt and definitely no trying to hurt anyone; no stealing; no breaking any known laws.”
“Walk the line,” I said with all seriousness in my heart. I’m really not a sociopath, at least I don’t think I am.
“Walk the line, man,” Chet said with a relieved smile.
“That’s why I have you for a friend, Chet. You get me, and know that under the dirt and grime that make up my demeanor I really am a pretty decent guy.”
“Don’t push it,” he said with a warm smile. “I know these rules are pretty redundant, and there’s no way you or I would ever intentionally break them. Sometimes though, we can both get pretty carried away. Everything you said, well, it could just as easily been me.”
“Really?” I asked with a laugh.
“Yup,” Chet said with a shake of his head. “I really am glad you brought this up though, because I was seriously thinking about how I was going to use the Rifter on the test so I could go hang out on the quad after dinner.
“Maybe you really are the more decent of the two of us,” he continued with a laugh. “You would be even more decent if you would grab me another plate of that pot roast.”
I did. Clicked the Rifter and I was there and back again before he could blink. I grabbed him a plate of roast and threw in a heaping side of mashed potatoes and veggies for good measure. Everything had gone smoothly, so I tossed a cookie on top of his plate; consider it a doggy-treat.
The talk had worked. It had established a framework that we both agreed to. Admittedly, I don’t think either of us would really have any trouble following the rules. We just needed to get them out in the open. It did help though. There were enough late night temptations that both of us knew existed. Now our little talk didn’t do anything to slow down our pranks, but it meant we sure didn’t cheat, or steal anything more than a humorous item or two. Most importantly we were extra careful to try to keep anyone from getting hurt.
More than anything else we used the Rifters to blow our imaginations wide open. We pressed on to the future.
That, however, is when the first unexpected bump came along. Her name was Claire. Five foot two and eyes of blue. Well, ok, she had brown eyes, but she did have blonde hair and a delicate smatter of freckles across her nose, and she was somewhat closer to five-two than six foot. What really got me, though, was she was wearing jeans, and with a pair of sandals her cute little toes just peaked from under the cuff. She was real lump in your throat material.
Chet had known Claire from back home and had introduced us at the beginning of school, but she had disappeared after that. Until now.
“Hi guys,” she said, smiling as she set her tray down at our table.
“Hi yourself, stranger,” Chet said with his big friendly grin.
I waggled my fingers, a tad nervously. She was really cute and despite my ‘what’s the worst that could happen, she says no?’ approach to most females, this was one rejection I don’t think I could handle. Chet knew about this fear. It was one of the few times I really regretted having him for a friend. Why do I tell him everything? I knew this was going to happen. I told him my inner most secret and he was about to make the whole thing blow up in my face.
“So what are you two so tense about?” Claire said, snapping me out of my pity party/paranoid conspiracy theorist reverie. “I’ve had my eye on you since I walked in here and saw that you two look like a pair of whispering conspirators.”
Chet and I exchanged a look. Like I said this was the first major bump. The night we found the Rifters we’d agreed no one else needed to know about them. Deep down I had been worried all along, worried that at some point we would have to tell a few others our secret. Something like this was almost too good to keep to ourselves. My assumption was that the ‘someones’ in question would be girls. I hoped not just any girls, either. I was hoping for me that it would be ‘The Girl.’
“I’ll tell you later,” I said with my best attempt at a mysterious smile. Talk about a gamble. I didn’t want to put her off, but I needed to talk with Chet first. No snap decisions on my part. I did hope that the hint of the unknown might make me a little more attractive. It would be nice to know that it was all pointless. If she hadn’t wanted to talk to me she never would have come over in the first place, right?
“Promise?” she asked with a little pout.
“Pinky,” I said, holding out my hand. She touched my hand. Shivers.
“Fine,” she said with mock disappointment. “You can tell me later. I’ll hold you to that promise though.”
She turned to leave, indicating to us she needed a drink.
“I never forget a promise made,” she said as she walked away, her disappointment turning into the briefest flash of a coy little smile.
My heart leapt, and then skipped.
“So what are you two doing this weekend?” Claire asked as she returned to the table sipping her drink along the way.
Chet just sat there with a smug look smeared across his face.
“Game Saturday morning for me,” I replied.
“I might be tempted to catch a game if I can roll myself out of be before dinner,” Chet said, yawning. “What do you think, Claire? It might be a good idea if I actually made it to one of my roommate’s games.”
“Thanks,” I said, dripping a little sarcasm on Chet’s dinner as I flipped him the compliment.
“I haven’t been to a soccer game in a while,” Claire said thoughtfully.
“Well, we could always skip soccer. I think the cricket club has a match down on the quad.”
“Cricket?” I snapped.
“Fancy a spot of tea?” he said as if slipping into his aristocratic waistcoat with a hint of English Leather dabbed upon it by his valet, Jeeves.
Claire laughed. That laugh was heavenly, like the distant tinkle of tiny bells. Then she punched Chet in the arm. I lost it. Man, I almost fell out of my chair when she did that. Convulsions of laughter wracked my body and I fought back the soda threatening to pour out my nose.
As I said, it was a bump. Best bump in my life, I can say that for sure. From that point Claire and I became inseparable. Well actually, all three of us became inseparable. She fell into our friendship like a rock in a still pond. Waves can be a good thing, trust me. Soon we began to feel something like the Three Musketeers must have felt; us against the world.
I can safely say, without giving too much of the story away, that Claire and I married a few years after college. Funny thing is, we didn’t start dating until my senior year and her first year of post-grad life. Up until that point we were just friends. Best friends.