The Time Traveler's Lament
Word Count: 598
Nikolai sees me first. “Comrade!” he yells from across the bar and waves me over to a stool near him. We catch up on old times, family, health, the regular small talk between friends who are not close, but wish they could be closer.
We are jovial. Life has been hard for both of us, but the long and bloody war is over and we are adapting to the ever-changing world. A new decade will soon be upon us: The 1960’s, a decade of American prosperity. The Decade of the People, they are already calling it.
The door creaks as another patron enters.
“Have you met this man?” asks Nikolai. I turn and see a tall, slender man with a dour face. He’s probably in his forties.
“I don’t believe so,” I answer.
“He is fun when you get a few drinks in him,” says Nikolai. “Comrade!” he shouts. “Comrade, come join us.”
The tall man nods and sits with us. “Comrades,” he says quietly. He introduces himself as Evan, and we share a few rounds. Nikolai is getting drunker and encouraging our friend Evan to do the same.
“Tell him,” says Nikolai. “Tell my friend here what you told me.”
Evan shakes his head. “I shouldn’t; it was irresponsible of me to tell you.”
“Tell him! Tell him why you don’t have papers. Tell him why you don’t exist.”
Evan looks at me sheepishly. “I don’t really exist.”
“Tell him why,” says Nikolai. “Tell him when you were born.”
“It’s not a good idea, Nikolai,” says Evan.
Nikolai turns his drunken gaze to me and makes a hissing sound at me that’s probably meant to be a whisper. “He’s from the future.”
“Nikolai…” says Evan.
“It’s okay, Comrade,” I say to my new friend. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. Nikolai is drunk and not to be trusted.”
Nikolai responded by blowing a raspberry at me. “I will shout it out to this entire bar. I will stand on a table.”
“Nikolai—“ I start to say, but Evan stops me.
“It’s all right,” he says. “I’ll tell you. Did you fight in the war, Comrade? Of course you did, everyone fought. How long did you serve?”
“Twelve years,” I say.
“This war,” says Evan. “This long and bloody war, this war that claimed over a billion souls… It was not supposed to happen.”
“Of course not, Comrade,” I say. “But it did happen. You can’t change that.”
Evan frowns at me. “Imagine an evil man.”
“Does this man have a name?” I ask.
“It’s best if I don’t tell you his name. But he was a villain, remembered for centuries for his evil deeds. The rest of the world banded together to stop him. His name, his image, even his mustache became symbols of evil.”
“That’s some mustache,” says Nikolai. I shush him.
“Imagine hundreds of years later, he is still remembered for his evil. Then a young man is given a chance—a one-way trip to the past—to unravel those evil deeds, to save tens of millions of lives.”
“I was that young man. I destroyed a villain. And he was replaced by something so much worse. Without him to unite against, the superpowers warred with each other. The long and bloody war followed, Comrades. And it is my fault.”
Nikolai is nodding enthusiastically. Evan stares at an empty tumbler. For a minute, no one speaks.
“I don’t know if I believe you, Comrade,” I say at last. “But that story is worth a drink.”
Edited by Carolyn Abram