August 15th, Nine Thirty-Two PM, Eastern Standard Time

“She forgot the eggs… again,” Jonathan Garland stood next to the refrigerator and looked in on its cold pale shelves. An empty carton of eggs sat jauntily on top of some Tupperware. Sure he could have cereal for breakfast, but it wouldn’t fill him up. He’d be hungry again by eleven.

He looked across the hallway to the bedroom door which was slightly ajar. Darkness peeked through. Katie still wasn’t awake.

“Chap! Do we have any eggs in the garage?” Jonathan asked the lifeless living room. There was an opening from the kitchen to the room, and in the dim morning glow he could just make out the furniture. A figure rose from a chair on the far wall. He walked on bare feet and dressed in a plain white t-shirt and white sweatpants.

“I will check, please wait,” Chap said.

Chap went soundlessly to the garage and emerged moments later with empty hands.

“We do not. Would you like me to add them to the shopping list?”

“No, never mind. And keep your voice down. Katie is sleeping.”

“Yes sir,” he whispered and returned to his chair.

“Oh, and Chap?”

“Yes sir.”

“Make sure you’re fully charged. I will need your help to fix a cracked solar panel on the roof. I don’t want you running out of steam while holding a ladder.”

“Yes sir.”

Chap returned to his chair and a soft green glow under the feet told Jonathan that he was charging.

The Custom Household Assistant Printable, or Chap, was a helpful fellow, if humorless. He could, of course, be programmed with a full array of personalities, but Jonathan didn’t want him to be too friendly. When Katie printed him out, she wanted a tall, strapping blonde. Jonathan understood, he was away for two or three days at a time when he had to work on the offshore wind turbines or tidal generators. It was only natural she’d need a companion.

Still… couldn’t have the substitute be better than the real thing. Better to leave him without a personality.

Jonathan was still hungry, so he made up his mind to bother his wife.

“Katie, honey?” he said gently into the bedroom.

“Mhph?” she said, not moving.

He cracked the door and peered in, the beam of light from the door provided just enough illumination to see she hadn’t so much as twitched since he woke up. On the wall behind her was an enormous landscape painting of the ocean, one of Katie’s original pieces.

“It doesn’t look like you picked up eggs yesterday,” Jonathan whispered.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said earnestly, “did you call back?”

“I would call back, but I reminded you about the eggs before you went. You must have still forgotten. A call back from me wouldn’t do much good.”

“Alright, my mistake,” she groaned and sat up, reaching blindly for her phone.

“It’s a little further to your right…” he said.

“I know where the damn thing is. It’s my arms. They’re tired, like the rest of me,” she whined in a good-natured manner. He laughed and admired her as she clumsily grabbed the iridescent blue phone from its charging station. Her blonde hair flopped maliciously in front of her face and she pushed it away, revealing her lovely pale cheeks and delicate wrinkles.

“What time did I go yesterday, do you remember?” she asked.

“I think you left around nine.”

“Okay, better make it eight forty-five then,” she said, punching the time into her phone.

There was a moment of silence, then…

“Hey. EGGS,” she nearly shouted at herself through the phone.

She hung up and smiled at Jonathan.

“That should do it,” she said and buried herself back in the blankets. Sundays were not a day for being out of bed before ten.

Jonathan returned to the fridge and opened the door.

The egg carton was now full and there were two small pieces of chocolate sitting on them.

“Bring me one!” Katie shouted from the bedroom.

He picked the two pieces of candy up and marched them back to the bed.

“You couldn’t resist a sweet, huh?” he said, handing her the tab of cool chocolate.

She didn’t take it, and instead just opened her mouth.

Sighing with dutiful resignation, he unwrapped the chocolate piece and put it on her tongue.

She chewed it happily and went back to sleep.

Jonathan put his piece back in the fridge. He’d save it for later.

Now equipped with the eggs, he made himself a full breakfast and finished a cup of coffee. Chap’s charging light went dark, letting Jonathan know he was ready for some manual labor.

He got changed into some work clothes. His hustle and bustle woke Katie back up and she demanded his attention.

“Come here Mr. Working-Man,” she cooed.

He obeyed and sat next to her, giving her a few grizzly kisses.

“You didn’t shave!” she giggled.

“Yes, I did. I’m just so manly I grew a beard back before lunch.”

“Mmh, I wish you were here Friday. I had the girls over for a movie. Remember Lovelace, did you see the commercials for that one? It was so sad, but also sweet. By the time they left I was dying for some attention,” she stroked his face as she spoke.

“Oh? I’m sorry I missed it,” he said, kissing her hand, “Chap help you out?”

“Yes he did his best, but he’s no Working-man,” she teased, “I had him play pretend. I dressed him up in your clothes.”

“You played pretend huh?”

“Yeah, he did a good job, pretending to be you. Except for the beard. He can’t grow one of those.”

“Well now you have the real thing,” he said, unzipping his orange vest.

After a half-hour of passion and a few minutes of playful cuddling, Jonathan put his clothes back on and got ready to work on the roof.

“Did you get a call from Past The Buck yet?” Katie asked.

“Not yet,” he said, checking his phone, “ugh. Wrong one. Have you seen my cell?” he said.

“Yeah, it’s in your jeans from yesterday.”

“Thanks,” he said, and retrieved the cell.

In his hands, he now had two phones. In one hand was a small grey tablet for regular calls to anyone in the world. It had apps, music, and about a thousand pictures of cables, wires, and technical baubles he needed to do his work. (It also had a few private pictures both for and from Katie on his days away.)

In his other hand, was his callback phone. It was dark blue, with an iridescent shine to its chassis. On the back was his IDN etched in silver.

“198JJG64”

The 198 stood for his district, JJG were his initials, and 64 meant that 63 people with those initials had lived in his district before. The IDN was plain, sans-serif script and could easily be read from a few feet away. There was no mistaking his call-back phone for anyone else’s. Not that it mattered. It was bio-encoded to his touch only. The screen was jet black, and it only had one function. Upon activation, the phone lit up with a keyboard in which you could enter a date and time.

“Be careful out there,” Katie said, “and let me know if Past The Buck calls you. We could use the prize money.”

“Will do,” he said, gave her a kiss, and went to the garage to fetch his tools.

For the next hour, he and Chap worked on repairing the solar panel on the roof. It had been cracked by a hail storm. A rolling sheet of metal foils was supposed to protect the panels in case of bad weather, but the wheels were jammed by an errant stick, and the last panel on the end had been exposed to the full brunt of the storm. He was lucky the foil didn’t get stuck any earlier on the track, or he would be replacing a dozen panels, and they didn’t have that kind of money.

At the thought of money, he checked his phone for a call from Past The Buck, but there wasn’t anything yet. If he could get on that game show and win, he would be fifty thousand dollars richer.

Chap ascended the ladder and brought him a tool he had requested a moment earlier.

“Thanks,” Jonathan said out of habit. Chap didn’t respond.

Jonathan pulled the broken panel off the roof and tossed it to the grass below, where it landed with a dull thud. Then, he opened the white packaging of the backup panel.

“Awe shit!” she said.

This panel was cracked too. It must have been smashed during shipping.

“Would you like me to add…” Chap started.

“No! Don’t add it to the list dammit. I’ll just call back.”

Jonathan pulled out his blue phone and rolled the date back and back and back…

August 2nd, Eight fifteen PM, Eastern Standard Time. About five minutes after he ordered the replacement panel.

The phone rang… then he heard his own voice from the other end.

“Hello?” the August 2nd Jonathan said.

“Hey,” the August fifteenth Jonathan said, “order a second panel from a different website. The one they are going to send you cracked in shipping. I’ll get a refund on this one.”

“Alright, thanks,” the earlier Jonathan said.

The later Jonathan hung up and waited.

August 2nd, Eight seventeen PM, Eastern Standard Time.

“Honey!” Jonathan shouted to Katie in the other room. “I just got a callback saying the solar panel is going to be cracked. I’m ordering a second one.”

“One moment!” she shouted back.

He waited until she came into the room, paintbrush in hand and face marked with flecks of oil.

“Can’t you just get a refund?” she asked.

“I can’t get a refund on an item that isn’t broken yet,” he said.

“Right right,” she agreed.

Temporal law was quite clear. You can’t pay for, be charged with, or otherwise be held responsible for anything that hasn’t happened yet.

“Oh, by the way,” he said, “You remember Bates? From work?”

Katie nodded while she washed her brushes in the sink.

“He told me that Past the Buck is looking for contestants from our area. I’m signing up!”

August 15th, Eleven twenty-two PM, Eastern Standard Time.

The memory of the conversation almost two weeks ago formed in Jonathan’s mind. It was nebulous, dark, then suddenly there in crystal clarity.

“Hey Chap, go get the second panel from the garage, and put in a refund for this panel, would you?”

“Yes sir,” Chap said and went to fetch the panel.

Jonathan waited, rubbing the sweat from his forehead. Not enough that I fix shit at work, I gotta fix shit at home too. If I had fifty thousand bucks you can bet your ass I would be paying someone else to do this…

His train of thought was derailed when his phone, his regular phone, rang in his pocket. It was from an eight-hundred number.

“No way…” he said, a smile creeping onto his face.

“Hello?” Jonathan answered.

“Jonathan Garland?” a woman asked.

“Speaking.”

“Congratulations! You’ve been selected to compete on Past The Buck!”

September 12th, Six fifty PM, Pacific Standard Time

The last month had felt like a flash.

Paperwork, sign-offs, legalese, dreams of cash, scrambling for a plane ticket to Los Angeles, forgetting to put in for vacation time and calling back to do that, makeup, wardrobe, the trip to the airport, a quick kiss goodbye, “take good care of her, Chap!” and more all rolled up into one big, knotted mess of a month.

Was it stage fright? It was stage fright.

Jonathan could stand on a five hundred foot tall wind turbine strapped on with nothing more than a single carbon-fiber wire and feel nothing, but a live studio audience? That had him in a flop sweat.

An assistant in a black polo with a white set of headphones stood next to him. A make-up team was trying to sop up the sweat from his forehead but it was no good.

“You might as well take the makeup off. It’s just going to run,” he said.

“Not this stuff. It’ll take a wire brush to get off,” the assistant said.

“Encouraging,” he joked with all the humor of a dead pheasant.

“You’re on in 3… 2…” she counted down with her fingers. Jonathan could hear the host say his name.

“And, joining us all the way from Newark, New Jersey… our first contestant, Jonathan Garland!”

Jonathan gathered himself and went onstage.

The audience clapped for him automatically as a big red sign flashed APPLAUSE. He took his seat at the first of four tables arranged in a semi-circle around a glass tube that stretched from floor to ceiling. Inside the tube was a white cylinder which he knew would rise or fall, carrying objects that the contestants would refer to over the course of the game.

The floor was decorated like a clock with liquid hands that flowed around the numbers aimlessly. The walls were painted in bright primary colors, and occasionally a projected image of a melting clock would roll down the wall in a painfully gaudy reference to Dali’s Persistence of Memory.

Photo by Thomas Bormans on Unsplash

The host sat at the third table which sat between contestant two and three and was slightly elevated. It was roughly at the “one o’clock” position according to the large dial on the floor. Jonathan sat at the nine o’clock seat.

“Our next contestant, from Danforth, Maine, it’s N’Temba Rossi!”

A tall, elegant woman who could be no older than thirty shot out of the curtains off stage. Her hands waved in exaggerated sweeps, and the audience cheered for her, instantly endeared. Her smile was enormous, contagious, and perfectly white. She threw herself down in her chair at the “eleven o’clock” position and adjusted her flowing-colored dress. Jonathan doubted that anyone had to do anything to her make-up. She was a natural thespian.

“And finally, from Illingsworth, Florida… our last guest… James Masters!”

The last contestant was a man of roughly Jonathan’s age. Greying blonde hair flowed down to his shoulders in an ancient-looking hairstyle. His face was shrouded in a thick beard and he had brown, rectangular glasses. His pale face was tight and clear and he had a small cybernetic interface in his temple. Jonathan guessed he was a professor based on the implant and his attire, which was primarily brown tweed. There was something pleasantly familiar about the man, but Jonathan couldn’t place it.

“Now, I’m sure you can see that Mr. Masters here does have an interface enhancement, but our technicians have ensured that it is deactivated for the course of the show. I’m sorry Mr. Masters but you’ll be just as human as the rest of us for the remainder of the show,” the host said.

The crowd laughed and Mr. Masters nodded cheerfully but said nothing.

“Okay folks you know how the game is played but I’m going to tell it to you anyway!” the host got up and walked around the stage like a preacher and spoke with quick, baritone clarity. His white suit glimmered in the lights and his black hair shone like onyx.

“Each of our contestants has their callback phones with them. Over the course of the show, we will challenge them to use their knowledge of temporal tricks to solve various puzzles and answer questions. Mr. Garland is an electrical engineer specializing in off-shore rigs. Miss Rossi is an elementary school guidance counselor, and Mr. Masters is a Professor of Art at the Ross Institute of Art.”

Mr. Masters waved gracefully. Again, Jonathan was struck by how familiar he seemed. Was he an old colleague? Impossible. They lived halfway across the country from each other.

The crowd clapped as the host returned to his seat.

“Alright you know what time it is… so to speak,” the host winked, “SPIN…”

The crowd took over the chant.
“SPIN… THE… DIAL!”

And the clock face spun on the floor. The glass tube suddenly shuddered to life and a white cylinder descended. On it was a sandwich.

“Contestants! You have seen this sandwich before. It was in your dressing room for you when you arrived. Do you know what is in it?”

After a second or so, N’Temba slapped her buzzer.

“Zucchini! It’s a Zucchini sandwich,” she cackled.

“Correct!” the points spun up to 100. They glowed a bright golden-yellow on the screen attached to her desk. Jonathan and Mr. Masters still had red “zeros” glaring like evil eyes across from each other. Jonathan had no chance of getting that one right. He was too nervous to eat before he came on the show. He had barely even noticed the sandwich.

“Next question…” the host said and the dial spun.

Then, the dial stopped and the sound of a car breaking down was pumped in through the speakers.

“Uh oh!” the host said in mocking fear, “sounds like we broke down! We need a car part to fix the engine…”

“An engineering question, perfect!” Jonathan sat forward, hand hovering over the buzzer.

“We will call the contestants one week after the time of recording this event and give them the answer. They will get the call approximately one hour before it airs. It’s their job to call back as fast as they can when the dial turns green. Let’s hope they’re watching… or rather, will be watching!”

Jonathan moved his hand from the buzzer to his callback phone. The other contestants did the same.

The dial was still unmoving, unblinking, black, then…

Green!

All three of their phones rang at almost the same instant.

Jonathan whipped the phone up to his ear and he heard his own voice in the speaker.

“Timing belt!”

He slapped the buzzer, and, to his surprise, he was first.

“Mr. Garland! What is the answer?”

“The car needs a timing belt!” he said, sweat dripping from his forehead.

“Correct!”

The points on his screen spun up to 100.

Next was a question about the color wheel. That one went to Miss Rossi. Another callback question in which they needed to tell their past selves to bring a candy bar onto the show. Each of them discovered a candy bar in their pockets as their past-selves completed the task. The host awarded each of them points and collected the candy bars, which he humorously ate between questions.

Jonathan checked the points. 100 to Mr. Masters, 300 for him, and 300 for Miss Fossi. He knew from watching the show in the past that there was usually a chance to pull ahead around the one thousand point mark. They would throw the contestants a curveball, something really odd that tested their ability to use their callback phones. They had a total of 700 points now, so the curveball should be coming any minute.

“Next question!” the host said. The dial on the floor spun, then slowed down, turned red, and went backward.

“Looks like it’s time to rewind! Quick! Pick up your phones and call yourself from any point after you entered the stage! You can tell yourself anything you need to! You have thirty seconds… go!”

Jonathan thought hard about how to best pull ahead. There was no sense in trying to give himself information about the color wheel, he knew the answer to that question but N’Temba was younger and faster. She hit the buzzer first. The candy bar callback didn’t matter since they all got points. The only way he could pull ahead would be if he took the first question back. Since he didn’t even answer that one, he might have a chance.

He dialed back to six-thirty, only a half-hour ago.

“Eat the damn sandwich,” he told his past self.

Almost instantly, he felt his stomach hurt and an acrid taste covered his tongue. His sweating had become even worse.

I guess the sandwich didn’t agree with me,” he thought as the memory of him running to the bathroom to vomit suddenly lodged itself in his brain.

Fortunately, another memory surfaced too. He remembered answering the question. Sure enough, they looked at the points and his had changed to 400 while Fossi’s was only 200.

“Mr. Garland! Congratulations. What was your solution?”

“I told myself to eat the sandwich,” he said.

“Hmm. Don’t you remember? I said you could only callback when you first entered the stage. I’m afraid that doesn’t count as you ate the sandwich before you came on.”

Jonathan shook his head.

“I always liked this show,” he said, growing more confident, “I was on a solar repair job in LA four years ago and I toured the studio. I sat where you’re sitting now for a photo.”

“Well well! Very clever solution Mr. Garland! Congratulations. Miss Fossi, what on earth did you do?”

“I panicked. I couldn’t think of anything,” she admitted.

“And Mr. Masters?” the host asked, turning to the blonde professor.

James Masters leaned forward and cleaned his glasses as if embarrassed.

“I tried to tell myself what the answer was to the car repair question, but I mistakenly said ‘trimming belt’ instead of ‘timing belt’. I’m afraid I’m not much of a mechanic. Mr. Garland still won that point.”

Jonathan was unable to accept the compliment, however, as he had finally recognized James Masters.

With his glasses off, Jonathan was able to get a better look at the face. And now that he had heard Mr. Masters speak for the first time… he knew exactly who it was.

James Masters was Chap.

Not the actual robot, Chap, of course, but he was the baseline. He was the form on which Chap was built. His eyes, nose, voice… even his little way of tilting his head to hear you better. It was all there. No wonder he looked familiar! Jonathan had seen James’ face every day. He had worked with him, lived with him, for years. Chap had kept his wife entertained when Jonathan was away… what were the chances?

Jealousy raged in his gut and he thought he might vomit… again.

Connections triggered neurons in his brain, which tumbled in electric, sparkling fury into more neurons and more and more until he had the whole picture of it.

Katie had chosen the template for Chap years ago. Jonathan assumed it was just some random bloke who had uploaded a profile to be rendered, but no! This was intentional. Chap’s robotic body was young, fit- around college age. James Masters was an art professor, probably around Katie’s age now. Could they have gone to school together? They must have! She went to university somewhere in the south. He never could remember the name… was he an old flame? No… he wasn’t. He was still aflame. He was a torch burning a hole right into Jonathan’s home. Into his bed. It wasn’t a coincidence or even a masturbatory act of nostalgia on Katie’s part. There was one thing that made Jonathan absolutely sure it was more than that. James Masters had a neural interface. It was useful for men of high intelligence, or educational professions, sure. But it could also be used to control a drone or a printed robot assistant. It could be used to see, feel, touch, and even taste what the robot did.

Jonathan knew it in the way preachers know that God is real. He knew.

James Masters had been fucking his wife from two thousand miles away for years.

“Mr. Garland… Mr. Garland!”

Jonathan’s attention snapped back to the world around him, and he realized he had entirely missed a question. Mr. Masters now had 200 points.

“Sorry,” Jonathan said, “lost in thought.”

“I’m glad you’ve returned to us!” the host said.

Jonathan tried not to glare at Mr. Masters, but he couldn’t help it. If there wasn’t a crowd right now, and cameras, he’d bolt across that stage and…

The dial made a horrible sound again, interrupting Jonathan’s thoughts. It was time for another callback from the contestants in the future.

“It’s time for some poetry!” the host said and pointed to the floor. On the dial, a short rhyming couplet appeared. It was too small to be read from the audience or cameras, but the contestants could see it clearly.

“You will have one minute to memorize this line, then at the time of this show airing, you’ll have to call back and recite it from memory. If you can, you earn 200 points!”

Jonathan glanced down at the lines but knew he wouldn’t be able to remember them. It was pointless. He was too angry… but still, fifty thousand dollars was on the line. He had to try.

Reading them to himself, he tried to commit them to memory.

“But you can read the hieroglyphs on the great sandstone obelisks,

And you have talked with basilisks, and you have looked on hippogriffs.”

But before he could even finish both lines twice through, the time was up.

“Let’s check our first contestant!” the host pointed to Jonathan, “Mr. Garland if you’re watching, please call now!”

There was silence in the theater as everyone waited for his callback to ring.

Nothing.

“So sorry Mr. Garland. Looks like you lost these points. Miss Fossi! Your turn.”

Her phone rang and she put it on speaker.

“Hello everyone!” her future self said.

The crowd hollered back.

“Okay, I think it was… ‘but you can read the hieroglyphs on the great obelisks, and you have talked with basilisks, and you have looked at hippogriffs.”

The host shook his head, “I’m so sorry but that is incorrect. And now Mr. Masters. It is your turn.”

James Masters answered his phone, which rang promptly.

“Hello?”

The crowd greeted him.

“Let me start by saying,” the future James Masters said, “that this is not technically a rhyming couplet. It is two lines, granted, but the author originally wrote the lines as a four-line stanza, then removed half the line breaks. This is evidenced in the internal rhyme of ‘obelisks’ and ‘basilisks’, ‘hippogriffs’ and ‘hieroglyphs’.”

“This is very informative Mr. Masters,” the host said, laughing at the current James Masters who looked embarrassed at his future self.

“I am afraid I still need you to answer the question,” the host chuckled.

“Yes, the line is… hello, and who are you then?”

The host seemed confused and asked him to repeat himself, but there was no answer. Instead, there was a muffled grunting and crash of glass over the phone. Everyone sat like statues as they waited for the chaos over the speakerphone to settle. They heard a shriek and several dull thudding noises. Finally, there was a voice. It was not the voice of James Masters, however. It was Jonathan Garland.

“Hey there James. How are you feeling? Feeling fit as a fiddle?” the disembodied voice of Jonathan said. The voice was manic, high-strung, and coarse. It was the voice of a man who had become unhinged.

“You don’t look so good in my time. In fact, that big old brain of yours is splattered all over the floor. Better get someone to clean this up. Maybe a lady friend? Do you have one of those?”

James Masters looked across the room at Jonathan.

His mind raced, “No! I… I wouldn’t. Would I?”

Jonathan tried to push away thoughts of violence. He tried to commit to not murdering this man.

“You don’t understand! I… I don’t want to!” he shrieked.

The host chuckled and regained his composure.

“Well, folks! Looks like we have a little drama on set this evening!”

The crowd laughed.

“Don’t worry, son,” the host said sympathetically, “these sorts of things have been known to happen. Just get yourself in order and work out your feelings. Competition does funny things to people and it makes us think in ways we wouldn’t normally. You haven’t committed any crime yet, Mr. Garland and no one will hold an errant thought against you. Take a break okay? Sal, can you bring water out for our guest?”

The host waved at security in the back while making another announcement.

“We’re going to give Mr. Garland a chance to pull himself together, right folks?”

The crowd clapped for him and gave him some encouraging whoops and hollers.

“Please take a ten-minute recess everyone. There are refreshments just outside the theater. We’ll see you all back here for filming shortly.”

Jonathan stood, took the water from Sal, and walked off stage, not looking once at Mr. Masters.

“Don’t kill him, don’t kill him, don’t kill him…” he tried to think to himself as he made his way to the bathroom.

He was alone now, locked in a stall, trying to control his impulses, but it was no use. The memory of the voice over the phone didn’t change. Was he really going to go mad? What would cause it? When would it happen? When would he snap?

He pictured Katie, at home for days at a time, entangled with a golem of synthetic flesh possessed by the soul of her lover.

Rage burnt at the edges of his brain and he could think of nothing else. He wept and spat at the ground. He kicked the stall door until it broke and he saw the mirror. His tired, ragged, sweating body twisting on the toilet brought him back to reality.

No. He would not be beaten by that ridiculous fruitcake of a professor. That artsy-fartsy know-it-all would not win… but how. He had to kill the man. That much was certain. His desires were too firm. His heart couldn’t be changed by any number of callbacks, and if he went to prison then so be it… but there was no reason he couldn’t kill the man more tactfully.

In a moment of mechanical clarity, he had the solution. It was elegant, simple. It was in front of him all along, and all he had to do was make one quick phone call.

He pulled out his callback phone and spun the dial.

September 12th, Seven-thirty PM, Pacific Standard Time

He returned to the stage and took his place at the nine o’clock position. The other contestants were seated and the crowd was full.

“Very good, Mr. Garland. Are we feeling better now?”

“I am, thank you,” Jonathan said. He did feel better. For the first time since he got on stage, he felt genuinely good.

“Excellent!” the host clapped, “give him a round of applause, eh folks?”

Jonathan accepted the applause and looked across the room to James Masters who was sitting quite still in his seat, not making eye contact.

“Let’s give Mr. Masters another chance to call in,” the host said.

They waited for only a minute, and Mr. Masters’ phone rang.

He answered and put it on speaker.

James Masters’ voice rang out clearly in the theater.

“But you can read the hieroglyphs on the great sandstone obelisks,- And you have talked with basilisks, and you have looked on hippogriffs.”

“200 points to Mr. Masters!” the host cried out.

The screens updated, bringing Masters and Garland to 400 points each.

“Looks like we’re tied!” Jonathan called across the room to Mr. Masters.

“Yes sir,” he responded.

The game ended a half-hour later. James Masters had swept the next nine questions and won with a staggering 1300 points. It was an excellent episode, all things considered. The drama, the comebacks, the sudden pull ahead… prime television!

The host thanked them all and let Mr. Masters know in no uncertain terms that the fifty thousand dollars would be transferred to him post-haste! Post-haste! He kept saying.

What an old-fashioned word!” Jonathan mused to himself.

Finally, with the handshaking done, and the cheques signed, it was time for everyone to leave. Fossi wanted group pictures, so they took one, then went their separate ways.

On the ride to the airport, Jonathan checked his bank account.

Deposit: $50,000- From Masters J.

He smiled, closed his eyes, and reveled in the new memories as they washed over him.

August 15th, Eleven twenty-two PM, Eastern Standard Time.

“Hey Chap, go get the second panel from the garage, and put in a refund for this panel, would you?”

“Yes sir,” Chap said and went to fetch the panel.

Jonathan waited, rubbing the sweat from his forehead. Not enough that I fix shit at work, I gotta fix shit at home too. If I had fifty thousand bucks you can bet your ass I would be paying someone else to do this…

His train of thought was derailed when his phone, his regular phone, rang in his pocket. It was from an eight-hundred number.

“No way…” he said, a smile creeping onto his face.

“Hello?” Jonathan answered.

“Jonathan Garland?” a woman asked.

“Speaking.”

“Congratulations! You’ve been selected to compete on Past The Buck!”

“Yes! Thank you! You have no idea how much this means to… hold on a second.”

Jonathan’s callback phone was ringing.

“Please wait for just one second, okay?” he asked and the woman on the phone agreed.

Jonathan answered his callback phone.

“This better be important,” he said, “I just got the call to go on Past the Buck! Don’t ruin this.”

“Don’t worry. I won’t,” the September twelfth Jonathan said, “I didn’t call for you. Can you put Chap on the phone?”

“Sure. Chap!” the August fifteenth Jonathan tossed the callback phone to Chap.

“Yes sir?”

“Hi, Chap. I need you to do something for me. I’m sending you details for flights to Florida and Los Angeles. You’re gonna play pretend.”

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer, English Teacher, Gamer, Nerd.

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