When I was a child my best friend was a time traveler from the year 2340.
His name was Bobby but I called him “2340.”
2340 wore jeans and a windbreaker. He looked like any other kid, defined by the crinkle of candy bar wrapper.
But in class he’d sit behind me and whisper things like: “Don’t bother learning this stuff. It’ll be obsolete in twenty years.”
I didn’t believe him. “Where’s your time machine?”
2340 tapped his freckled forehead.
“It’s a computer chip in my brain. In 2126, a computer scientist in New America discovers a way to capture light through mental command. Over the next hundred years, his invention gets gradually tweaked until a guy from Tokyo turns it into a time-traveling device.”
I dismissed all this as blather.
“You don’t believe me?” He opened his notebook and scribbled the details of a freak accident he predicted would occur the following morning in Toledo, Ohio, claiming eighty-nine lives. “Watch the news tomorrow.”
When a bridge collapsed in Ohio the next day, I invited 2340 to my house and begged him to tell me what would happen over the next 350 years.
“Technically, I’m not supposed to,” he said, wandering to my bedroom. He crouched in front of a radio. “My God, is this a radio? I saw this in a museum once. You could sell this for billions in 2340.”
“The U.S. dollar will collapse when you’re sixty. A candy bar will cost a hundred bucks overnight. The masses will revolt against the 1%. Riots in the streets, assassinations, all of which will lead to the Second Civil War.”
2340 spoke with no change of emotion, as though reciting facts he’d memorized in school, or from a series of late-night phone calls with a fortune-teller. “America will become a different country, with a new currency.”
On weekends, 2340 and I built a treehouse in his backyard. He loved being outdoors, because in the future all the trees get chopped down and replaced by oxygen poles in a concrete wasteland.
Meanwhile his parents were never home. They were anthropologists who’d received a grant to travel back in time and study Old America up close. “Pa has a fake job in a car dealership and Ma works in a hair salon. In reality, they’re both geniuses gathering data for a book.”
“What about you?” I asked. “Are you a scientist too, or just a kid?”
“I’m just a kid. But I’m writing a book, too. I’m hoping to publish it when I get back to 2340. It’s about you.”
2340 climbed onto a higher tree branch and sat there with dangling legs. “Someday you’re going to accomplish something really amazing. You’re going to be super famous. I want to write your biography.”
I was stunned. “Really? Tell me.”
2340 gave me a sad look and shook his head. “I can’t.”
Eight months after his arrival, 2340 announced he was returning to the future. At school, he told the class his parents had gotten a job in Chicago and he was “moving away.” He winked at me. I was the only person who knew the true story.
On the morning of his departure, I hid in our treehouse and watched his driveway for signs of boxes, a truck, moving men, so that I could jump down and prove his story was bullshit.
Nothing. The house was silent.
I cupped my eyes to the windows and the furniture was still there. But 2340 was gone, 350 years in the future, in a humming civilization I would never see. Where he was now, I was just a name in a cement graveyard.
The next day I shattered his bedroom window and broke into the house. I was desperate for evidence of what I’d become someday, what I would do to get famous.
But all I found, in a bedside drawer, was a map he’d drawn of the United States parceled in strange new patterns. State boundaries no longer existed.
There was a star where Washington, D.C. should be.
Only instead of “Washington, D.C.,” he’d labeled it with my last name.
Jay Gershwin is the author of Poor Man’s Autumn: A Novel.