GOOD ADVICE • by Alex Shvartsman

The time traveler’s arrival was underwhelming. He did not materialize out of thin air, or even ride in on a jet pack. Instead he knocked gently twice on Bobby’s door and walked in without waiting for an invitation.

“Greetings from the future,” he started saying in a deep voice, but burst into a fit of laughter. “Man, you should have seen your face,” he continued after catching his breath. “It was priceless.”

The visitor was wearing jeans and a white t-shirt. Then again Bobby did not seriously expect a silver jumpsuit or some other bad 1950’s sci-fi movie cliché. He looked to be in his late thirties, tall, dark, and — while not exactly handsome — pretty close to how Bobby imagined himself aging.

“So that’s what I am going to look like when I grow up,” said sixteen-year-old Bobby Sesak. “Not bad, considering.”

“I ain’t complaining,” responded the older man. He walked over to the mini-fridge and took out a Red Bull. He opened it, took a big gulp and plopped onto the couch.

“This is not exactly how I pictured any of this going down,” offered Bobby hesitantly.

“I know,” said the visitor. “I know everything you do. I am you, remember?”

Bobby studied his older self carefully.

“Sure,” he said. “It’s pretty hard to accept though.”

“I get it,” said future Bobby. “You aren’t entirely certain that I am really you.”

Bobby nodded.

“All right. You had measles at seven. At thirteen you developed a huge crush on Kathy Marino from Pine Street, but never got up the courage to do anything about it. You are going to graduate high school this year, and you’ve already been accepted to MIT. You were going to go and study theoretical physics, but then you met Rachel a few months ago. Now you are seriously thinking about turning MIT down, so you can hang around here with your girlfriend for another year while she finishes high school.” Future Bobby washed his monologue down with a few more sips from the can. “How else would I know any of this?”

Bobby had to agree. No one knew some of these details outside his immediate family.

“I love her. I just can’t picture heading to Massachusetts and leaving her behind,” said Bobby.

“I know it’s hard. This is why you thought up this experiment. You figured that if you went to MIT and continued to work on your theories, you’d eventually build a working time machine. You set a specific time and date for a future you to show up here, if you succeeded. Had I failed to be here today, you were going to assume that your theories would not bear fruit after all and use this as an excuse to bail on college.” The older man looked at Bobby sternly. “Do you have any idea how hard it was for me to get here? What kind of trouble I am going to be in if anyone from my time finds out?”

“Sorry about that,” said Bobby. “I did not really think that part through.”

“No kidding. Still, I managed. Got to look out for Numero Uno,” smiled future Bobby. “Anyway, I am old and wise now, so you better listen up, mini-me. You are going to enroll at MIT this September. Sure, you will miss Rachel pretty badly — for a little while. Then you will meet a number of interesting young ladies in Boston and pretty soon Rachel is going to be just a pleasant memory. It will all work out very well in the end,” he nodded meaningfully to a wedding band on his finger. “Trust me. This is for your own good.”

“Now you sound just like dad,” said Bobby.

“This is really hard to accept at sixteen, but dads are often right,” said the older man. “Remember the time when he talked you out of buying that comic book collection? Or the time he convinced you to stay away from Kevin and his shady friends? If I recall, Kevin is in jail now — or soon will be. Well, dad is right about this one, too.”

“What happens next?” Bobby asked.

“I go back,” said future Bobby with a sigh. “I took a lot of risks to be here and the longer I stay the more likely I am to be discovered.”

“Wait,” said Bobby. “Aren’t you going to give me some winning lottery numbers? Or better yet, the formula I am going to invent to make time travel possible?”

“It doesn’t work that way, kiddo. Changing anything is a major risk to the timeline. Even nudging you in the right direction was dangerous stuff. Don’t worry; you’ll get there on your own. As long as you pack up your bags and head to college.”

The time traveler said his good-byes and left. Bobby sat in his chair for a while, thinking, trying to figure everything out. He’d been really leaning toward staying home, staying with Rachel, but this event changed everything. Still, something was gnawing at him, something he could not quite put his finger on.

Then he had it. The comic books! His dad did talk him out of buying that collection at a garage sale — but then Bobby went back on his own and bought them anyway. He’d been so sure that it was a great investment, but the value of those comics plummeted, and he never told dad. The books were still here in his room, sitting at the bottom of the drawer. Surely it was not something he’d completely misremember, even years later.

Bobby stormed out of his room, then out of the house and down the road. He ran to the intersection and in the distance he saw the visitor speaking to his father. And then he watched his father pass a stack of bills into the other man’s hand.

Alex Shvartsman is a writer and game designer. His adventures so far have included traveling to over 30 countries, playing a card game for a living, and building a successful business. Alex resides in Brooklyn, NY with his wife and son.

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