A November breeze swept over Henry and he instinctively held a paper cup full of warm coffee just a bit closer to his chest. He had been in line for nearly twelve hours. Morning broke slowly, and he watched beams of piercing morning light shine down the street and reflect brightly off of store windows.
Henry took a sip and allowed the hot steam to warm his face. He couldn't leave his spot, so he had bought the coffee from a vendor walking down the line. Henry wished he had offered him cream, but the warmth and much-needed caffeine were good enough.
Henry glanced down at his phone to help pass the time.
"What does it say?" came a soft voice from behind him.
Henry turned around. "Excuse me?"
"You checked the time, right? What time is it?" asked a girl wrapped in a big purple scarf and a heavy winter coat. She appeared to be in her early twenties, like Henry.
"Uh, it's about six."
"Then the sun's about to come up, thank goodness! It's way too cold." The girl thrust her mittened hand out to Henry. "My name is Georgia, what's yours?"
Henry held out his right hand, and realized he was still holding the coffee. Georgia's face brightened as Henry fumbled with the cup until he finally shook her hand. "My name's Henry."
"So, what do you think, Henry? Will the device really work?" asked Georgia.
Henry looked toward the front of the line and couldn't make out where it started—a thousand bodies all collected into an endless swarm of people, all pressing forward, all buzzing with the same nervous excitement.
"I don't know," Henry replied. "I hope it works, if just to make all this waiting worth it."
Georgia sat down, and Henry followed suit. Finishing the last sip of his coffee, Henry sat the empty cup down beside him; the emerging sun had taken away some of the chill.
"I heard the device can record your thoughts, even your dreams! Can you imagine? Waking up and watching your dreams?" asked Georgia.
Henry looked at her, her face tucked safely in the hood of her jacket. "I think the device can do a lot of amazing things, but I think there's one reason all of these people are here—the messages."
The device was only designed to be an amazing new gadget with the ability to sync to the brainwaves of its user. Think of a face, the device could call that person. Dictate a message by
thought, then save it or send it. Set reminders for important events simply by focusing on the date and time.
As amazing as those innovations were, they weren't what had millions of people across the world lined up to get one. It was what would happen in twenty years, by some not-yet-developed quirk in future versions of the device.
What would I say, thought Henry, if I had the chance to say something to my past self? Twenty years ago, Henry would have been five years old. What information would a five-year-old need
to know—what would a five-year-old understand about a world so far off?
"I'm sure you're right," said Georgia fiddling with the tassels of her jacket. "What do you think yours will say?"
"Just hope it's not stock tips!" said a man walking by. He was wearing a pressed blue suit beneath a long black coat. "I've spent the last day waiting in this stupid line, and I'm sick of it. My associates in New York have told me that they're all getting the same information, and stocks have exploded. Buy this, or sell that—now all of those stocks are nearly a thousand dollars a share; it's insanity! Don't even get me started on the lottery, several million winners today, leaving just pennies for each person."
"Did anyone you know get something besides financial tips?" asked Georgia.
The businessman stood straight and appeared to calm a bit, and adjusted his collar. "A friend of mine said he was given a date with the message to turn right instead of left. How is that supposed to make someone feel, forever wondering what you're trying to avoid? If that's not enough to drive a man insane I don't know what is. This isn't for me, the future isn't supposed to be known—that's why it's the future!" He threw his hands in the air and stormed off, cursing to himself under his breath.
Georgia turned to Henry. "Maybe his friend still can turn left, and maybe he should. Some people are saying that there will be a new timeline, one different from the people who sent the messages. Or hey," said Georgia with a smirk, "maybe turning right will make things worse."
Henry fell back into his head and tried to envision each tiny step in his life that could have been different, each time he could have turned right instead of left, and how much his life would change. He thought back to every poor decision—the time he crashed his dad's car, the moment he dropped out of college, and when he broke a girl's heart. It made his stomach sink and his head ache.
"I guess I just hope mine isn't lottery numbers," said Henry, forcing a smile. "What about you? What soaring and infinite wisdom are you hoping to have sent yourself?"
Georgia looked up to the sky and contemplated the question as if the answer lay deep inside her. "I kind of want to know if I'll ever make it with my art, or … well, I just hope she tells me she found the courage to be happy."
Georgia paused and took a deep breath, "I applied to some art schools, but I was rejected. It hurts, you know, to hear that something you're passionate about maybe isn't what you should be doing. I want to know that they were wrong, and I guess I'm just looking for permission to keep going." Georgia closed her eyes and turned away.
Henry, now uncomfortable, rubbed the back of his neck. He hadn't meant to upset her. Hearing Georgia's story reminded him that he wasn't sure what he wanted his message to say. There were so many people, all sorts of people, all hoping for something.
Some would want success, or fame, or money, or love. Everyone was looking for a dose of clarity in a sea of uncertainty—a way to escape the fear of the unknown.
Henry could hear the rustling of people standing up echo off the buildings across the street. He looked ahead—the line was so long, he could hear people moving before he could see them. He
waited until the people in front of him got up, and then he rose behind them. And like one great wave it continued behind him and out of sight.
The next few hours of waiting were agonizing. From what he understood, the store had to calibrate each device by putting a hood filled with diodes, lights, and receptors on each person's
head. Once the device was synced up to the user's brainwaves, it would begin to receive information. And in just two decades from today, users would be able to send a thought, a short and simple sentence, back to their devices—all of their devices. The messages didn't travel through time, but instead existed at a higher state where the past, present, and future occurred simultaneously.
Henry and Georgia watched as people passed by, their faces grim. "Why do they look so sad? What did their messages say?" said Georgia. A man and woman with linked arms overheard. The man stopped dead in his tracks and looked back at her, his eyes red from barely restrained tears.
"My wife's message said 'leave him before the cancer,'" said the man somberly.
"What did yours say?" said Georgia to the man.
"I didn't get one." He turned to the woman beside him. Her expression didn't change and she didn't look back. He looked down, his face cold, and they continued walking again.
Georgia retreated into her jacket, and looked at Henry. "I don't think this is right," said Georgia. She peeled back her hood revealing long locks of curly brown hair, which she shook violently. "Maybe they're right, maybe our future shouldn't be known."
"But I have to know," replied Henry. "You would miss knowing your own future?"
"If it makes me like them, then yes," she said, surveying the crowd of dreary people as they lifelessly marched from the store like mourners at a funeral procession, their hopes and excitement expired.
"Hasn't anyone gotten good news?" asked Henry loudly. His eyes locked on each person as they passed by.
A woman looked up briefly and peered back towards Henry. "These are our mistakes. What could you tell yourself after twenty years that could possibly fix them?" And she continued on.
As news of the messages spread, people started to disperse and the line began to move much faster. "It's only one possible version of future events," some said. Others became fearful they would worry about events that wouldn't occur or, more troubling, act on information that would make matters worse. "Better not to know," they murmured, but didn't sound convinced.
Finally, after nearly a full day of waiting, it was Henry's turn. Henry stepped through the door apprehensively. The space was bare, stark white and brightly lit, forcing him to shield his eyes. An employee dressed all in white directed him to a chair and sat him down while another accepted his payment. He heard one say that he was placing an electroencephalographer over his head, and his world went dark.
He latched onto the word—electroencephalographer. The hood, he thought, and allowed the strange-sounding word to roll through his mind. Slowly, he succumbed to an uncomfortable feeling of claustrophobia coupled with the odd sensation of a million tiny pricks across his scalp. He could feel the pressure of one of the white-clad employee's hands on his shoulder, holding him still.
In the distance he could hear Georgia politely declining a device. Was she the smart one? He thought. Did he really need to know his future? A million questions filled his mind. Will there
even be a message? Will I be alive in twenty years? Will it tell me about a future relationship, or maybe a wife? Will it warn me about cancer? Do I have cancer now?
Henry's hands started to sweat. The darkness, the tightening grip on his shoulder, and the fear and uncertainty started to overwhelm him. The pricks began to feel like daggers. Henry's chair shot up, the hood torn from his face, and he was left noticeably disoriented. "Here you go, sir! Thanks for coming," said a white-clad employee.
Still reeling from the experience, he stumbled out of the store. He looked down at the tiny device, and wondered how such a small thing could cause so much misery. On the screen there flashed a tiny green box.
1 New Message
Henry stuffed the device in his pocket without opening the message. Georgia was sitting on a curb across the street, her arms wrapped around her legs, and her jacket folded beside her.
Henry walked over to her.
"Are you all right?"
"I decided not to get one," said Georgia.
"I've decided that I don't need someone to tell me whether or not I can do what I love. Not a school, and not a silly message. I'm going to do it because it's what I want to do, and my destiny will be decided by me—not by anyone else, and not by a message from the future," she said. She collected her jacket and looked back up at Henry. "What about you, what did yours say?"
"I didn't look." Henry retrieved the device from his pocket and held it out to her. "Here, you look."
"No, I don't want to," said Georgia, waving it away. "It's a message sent to you, from you. It's not for anyone but you. Plus, I doubt it would make sense to me."
"I kind of hope it is lottery numbers," said Henry, holding the device cautiously in his hands like it was a loaded weapon.
"Read it. You went through all that work! Besides, I need to find a resolution vicariously through you," Georgia smirked.
Henry allowed himself a small laugh, and timidly activated the screen on his device. Again, an alert flashed that he had one message. He raised his finger up to the device slowly and he paused.
The moment of doubt proved futile and he clicked the message. He allowed each word its own moment to sink in deeply with the gravity it deserved.
Everything will work out.
"What does it say?" she asked.
"What I needed to hear," said Henry, finally exhaling, allowing himself a satisfactory smile. "Are you hungry? There's a great place to get some breakfast just down the street—I was planning on going there afterwards anyway, and I'd like it if you came along."
"Yeah," replied Georgia, scrunching up her nose and beaming brightly. "I'd like that, too."