(Originally published on May 31, 2010 on Everyday Fiction)
Young Harold opened the door to his bedroom and was surprised to find Himself-Twenty-Odd-Years-Later sitting on his bed. He looked rough, as if he’d been gone over with old sandpaper and then beaten with sticks, and he was fiddling with the small chunk of petrified wood his Grans had given him several years ago as a souvenir from her Arizona trip.
“Don’t lose this,” she had said as she placed the stone in his hand, smiling, “It’s survived for millions of years.”
“I won’t, Grans,” he’d replied, carefully turning the ancient stone over and over and over again in his palm. It was a treasure.
Himself-Twenty-Odd-Years-Later, however, didn’t seem to appreciate his grandmother’s gift or remember her words, as he was casually tossing it up and down, back and forth, from hand to hand like it didn’t even matter to him at all. After giving the stone a final upward toss and catching it with a quick swing of his arm, Himself-Twenty-Odd-Years-Later looked at Young Harold and asked, “Where did you find this?”
“This. Where did you find this?” he asked again, displaying the stone between his thumb and three fingers. “It’s been lost for years, but there it was, on my dresser.”
“It hasn’t been lost. It always sits on my dresser.”
The thought “have I done this before” flickered and died inside Young Harold’s brain in an instant, and he was left standing there with a stupid look on his face.
Himself looked directly at Young Harold and said sharply, “Get that stupid look off your face. You can’t go through life looking dumbfounded; people will think you’re an idiot. Think of that as my first piece of advice: even if you don’t know what’s going on, always at least pretend you do. That way people won’t think you’re a total moron.” He spoke harshly, his tone foul.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m here to give you advice. Advice that comes from years of wisdom.”
“Oh… how did you get here?”
Himself nodded at the closed closet door.
“Through the closet?”
“No, a wormhole.”
“Oh. What’s a wormhole?”
Himself sighed and said, “Think of time as a blanket folded up in your closest … a really big, never-ending blanket. Well, it’s like if some sort of insect or something chewed a hole in one of the folds of that blanket. If it did that, then it could crawl right on down to the lower fold … because it chewed its way through, you know? That’s a wormhole. You’ve got one in my closet … our closet.”
“Listen, I really don’t have much time,” Himself stood and took a step closer to Young Harold. “There’s some stuff you need to remember in order to, like, have a good productive life. Do you have a pen to write this down?”
“Well, crap. Okay, just try and remember what I’m about to tell you. First piece of advice, always carry pen and paper. You never know when something like this will happen. Second piece of advice, avoid Amber, she’s trouble and the kid’s not worth it. I don’t care what she looks like or how you feel about her. Trust me, in the end, it’ll be better.”
“Wait, I’m supposed to remember all this…?”
Himself didn’t pause, “… Thirdly, when you meet Emily, watch what you’re doing. Don’t look like an idiot like you did. Fourth, it doesn’t matter how much you want to or what they say or how drunk you are, don’t go near the lake.”
Himself held up his left hand, which was missing its middle finger.
“Trust me, you’ll regret it,” he said. “Finally, don’t let mom remarry…”
“Mom and Dad get divorced?”
“No, he dies… Speaking of which, read warning labels. Now listen, don’t let her remarry. Steven seems nice at first… seems. Understand?”
“… I … I’m not sure.”
“You’ll figure it out. Oh, and move out as soon as you’re able. Things will be a lot easier for both of us then. And don’t move back in, no matter how much she begs or how bad the sickness gets.”
Himself moved toward the closet.
“Just remember all this stuff I told you. I’m counting on you. It’s all very important. I can’t have you screwing up my life like you did the first time. Got it? Later,” and Himself threw open the closet door and stepped inside and then pulled the door shut quickly.
Young Harold stood perfectly still and silent for a moment, staring straight ahead at the closed closet door. Then, following in Himself’s footsteps, he approached the door and cracked it open and found nothing but clothes and shoes and the cardboard box crammed with all his old toys. Quietly, slowly, he shut the door and walked to his bed and sank down into it, pondering over all that he had learned and was supposed to remember.
At some point while he was lying there, Harold had a feeling…the kind of creeping unease person has when he or she steps inside a deeply familiar place and realizes something minute is askew. An unsettled feeling.
“Where’s Gran’s stone?” he asked himself.