April 6, 2057
I assume the laboratory is finished. Congratulations. While we are discouraged that all of our test subjects have died so far, we are confident it is only a matter of time before one survives. Now that your laboratory is finished, this project should remained more contained and we will be able to start sending them much more frequently from your perspective. Your status reports have been invaluable. Thank you.
* * *
August 23, 2015, 4:48 am
Curtis had been working at WatchWorks Lab for a week and still he had no idea what he was supposed to be doing, but as long as it counted towards his practicum he didn’t care. At least he was pretty sure it counted. He should probably double-check that.
He sat at his desk slowly rotating in his chair. The curls of his red hair flopped against the back of the headrest as he stared up at the ceiling which was a dome of windows that gave a clear view of the slowly lightening sky.
He stopped rotating when he heard a strange dripping noise coming from the centre of the lab which was a raised platform that looked like a stage. He had a sneaking suspicion that his boss, Jason or Dr. Thompson as he preferred to be called, had a flair for the theatrics and saw it more as a stage than for any practical purpose, especially since it seemed as though no actual science ever seem to happen here.
Following the noise, he realized that drops of water were materializing in the air above him and dropping down into a puddle at his feet. As he stood there, they started dropping faster and faster until it formed a stream. Then, the stream began to rotate and expand.
Where moments before there were just drops falling, a cyclone of water and mist had appeared. Curtis stumbled backward to get out of the way. The cyclone expanded outwards, then narrowed. Then, as though it were breathing, it continued to grew thicker before sucking back into a tiny spiral. Then, as quickly as it had begun, it gave one last heaving attempt to breech past the edge of the platform before it narrowed and disappeared completely. But not everything had disappeared.
Standing, where the cyclone had been, was a man with slicked back, dark brown hair and a wild, wide-eyed look. His eyes darted around the lab while he stood in a crouched position like he was preparing to sprint away.
Finally, his eyes landed on Curtis and they narrowed. “Who are you?”
“Hi, I’m Curtis.” He tentatively stepped forward awkwardly stretching his hand out.
The man looked at his hand, but made no move to shake it. “What year is it?’
Curtis, with his hand still outstretched, raised his eyebrows. “Excuse me?”
“The year? Is it still 2057?” His eyes drifted away and started darting around the room. “The lab doesn’t look any different. But I did go back, didn’t I?”
Curtis had no idea what the man was talking about and started backing away towards the door.
When he didn’t answer, the man fixed his gaze on Curtis again. “Well?”
“Ah, no, it’s not 20-whatever you said. It’s 2015.”
The man seemed to visibly relax and he grinned for the first time. “Fantastic.”
They stared at each other for a moment and then he sprang forward and bowled over Curtis, knocking him to the floor. By the time Curtis picked himself up, the man was gone.
* * *
August 24, 4:35 am
“What do you mean he’s gone?” Dr. Thompson shouted, his face turning from pale white, to a deep red. “Why was he early? Where did he go? Is he coming back?” He waved his hands about frantically in front of him as he peppered Curtis with questions.
“Um, I don’t know,” he shrugged.
“You don’t know?” Dr. Thompson said, so angry he was almost levitating off the ground. “You don’t know! What am I paying you for?”
“To be honest, I don’t know,” he mumbled.
Dr. Thompson ripped a tattered envelope from his lab coat. “August 23! He wasn’t supposed to be here until August 23. Why did they send him early?”
“Um, it’s August 24 today,” Curtis said, his voice barely audible.
Dr. Thompson glared at him for the longest 3 seconds of Curtis’s life, before whipping out his phone to check the date.
“Dammit,” he said, crumpling the paper in his fist.
Curtis was momentarily distracted when he heard footsteps coming down the hall. What now?
The man had returned and he was holding a piece of paper in his shaking hand. “Am I going to die?” he asked, holding the letter out to them.
“Give me that,” Dr. Thompson said, snatching the letter out of his hand. He quickly scanned it.
“So, is it true. The others before me died?”
“So far,” Dr. Thompson said, unconcerned.
“I feel fine. I just won’t jump back. I didn’t want to anyway. That’s why I ran away,” he rambled.
Jason raised his eyebrows at the man. “You have no choice. You automatically return after 24 hours. Didn’t they tell you?”
The man’s face fell. “No. But it looks like they didn’t tell me a lot of things.”
“Hmm,” Jason said. He’d grabbed a clipboard from one of the cupboards and was now scribbling furiously on his board. “Well there’s good news and bad news. You won’t necessarily die. The second recruit lasted much longer than the first. And look at you. It’s been nearly a day and here you are. Still breathing.”
The man seemed to perk up a bit. “So I might be okay?”
“Well, see, that’s the bad news.” He reached into his pocket. “I actually think you might have been our first test subject to live, but then you ran away and read the letter, so now you know too much.” He stabbed the man in the ear. “So, no, I don’t think you’ll be okay.”
He pulled the paper he’d been scribbling on off the clipboard, folded it carefully, and pinned it to the inside of the man’s coat.
Curtis watched in frozen terror unable to make his feet move towards the exit.
“Pity,” Dr. Thompson said, before stepping over the body and walking towards the exit. “Clean up the mess after his body disappears.”
This definitely was not going to count against his practicum.