26 Aug Yesterday’s Tomorrow
“Yesterday’s Tomorrow”Written by J.C. Fields Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 19 minutes
I do not remember the exact date I started noticing the changes. At first, they were small, a missing pen, a strange fob on my key ring, a TV left on a station we never watched, and other weird stuff. The first time I mentioned one of the incidents to my wife, Lori, occurred when I found a book I had never seen before on my nightstand.
“Hey Lori, is this your book?”
She walked into the bedroom. “What do you mean is that my book? You bought it a week ago, silly.”
“I’ve never seen it before.”
Crossing her arms, she growled. “Brandon Nelson, do not call me a liar.”
I turned to her. “Honestly, I’ve never seen the book before.”
Her scowl softened. “You bought it last week. You’ve been waiting for months for it to be published.”
“Yes, dear.” She snuggled up to me and gave me a kiss on the cheek. “You’ve been working too hard lately. Ever since that super collider went online, you’ve been preoccupied.”
“I guess that’s it. I’m just getting old and forgetful.”
She smiled and patted me on the arm. “Older yes, forgetful no.”
* * * * * *
I think Lori correctly assessed my preoccupation. I’m an electrical engineer with a master’s degree working on a hush-hush project for the Department of Energy. Originally approved by Congress and President Ronald Reagan, the Superconductor Super Collider began construction in 1987. Located thirty miles south of Dallas, only twenty-two miles of the planned fifty-four-mile circular tunnel were built. Massive cost overruns triggered congress to pull the plug on the project in 1993. Now forty years later, just like space exploration, a private company took over and finished the project with the stipulation the government would lease it back for fifty years.
Actually, all I do is resolve problems with the massive electrical circuits of the giant particle accelerator-collider buried under the plains of central Texas. By the last half of the century the DOE started authorizing projects for the now completed facility.
Lori and I have been married fifteen years. We moved to the Dallas area five years ago when she obtained the position of History Professor at Texas Christian University and I worked on the collider’s construction. We both have advanced degrees and still find it hard to make ends meet, so I don’t know if we will ever have children. We’ve tried, but with the current state of the economy and the transient life-style individuals with our credentials have to lead, it’s not a great environment for little ones.
I’m not a physicist, but I hear things. The words anti-matter and dark matter were being thrown around and I have witnessed a few high-fives over the course of the past several months. I started noticing the small changes I told you about earlier during this timeframe. Then came a Monday in late November.
An experiment conducted by a team of physicists from Sweden occurred over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Lori and I left Dallas on the Wednesday before for one of our infrequent visits to her mother’s house in Tulsa. Nothing out of the ordinary occurred during our get-together, other than a weekend spent listening to her brother enlighten us on how wonderful and intelligent his kids were. One of the reasons our trips are infrequent. Babies are a sore subject with Lori.
On the Monday morning following our return, I sat in my cubicle going over the upcoming week’s maintenance and upgrade schedule when a man appeared at my desk. I had seen him off and on over the course of the past year. His name was Ed Malone and he worked in the power department.
“Hey, Nelson, I need you to check with the fabrication department today, they’re having issues with a modification demanded by DOE.”
I looked up, smiled and said, “Okay. Did Aaron authorize it?”
Malone frowned, “Aaron? Who the hell is Aaron?”
“Aaron Haney, the head of my department.”
“You okay, Nelson?”
Malone shook his head, “Not sure what you’ve been smoking, but Aaron Haney’s been gone over a year. I took his place.”
I froze, a chill went up my spine and my stomach clinched. Not sure what to say, I think I mumbled, “Uh, oh, yeah—sorry.”
He handed me a file and shook his head. “These are the spec’s the Cal-Tech wants implemented for their scheduled procedure next month. Go get a cup of coffee, get your head out of your ass and head over to Fabrication. You need to be there by nine.”
I sat at my desk for a few moments, not sure what to think. I turned back to my computer and opened an organizational chart for the facility. After staring at it for over a minute, I noted the last update occurred over a year ago. I could not find Aaron Haney anywhere on the chart. Edward Malone’s name appeared where Haney’s name had been last week. I know because I looked up the name of another supervisor on Tuesday the 23rd so I could send an estimate to the right department. I distinctly remember Aaron’s name on the chart, I swear it. With no one else to ask, I called Lori.
“This is a surprise. You never call me at work.”
“Who’s my supervisor?”
“Is this a joke, Brandon?”
She stayed quiet for a few moments. “Ed Malone. Did something happen to him?”
A sense of vertigo struck as I struggled to push back on the panic I felt. My mind went blank as I stared at the cubical wall, not seeing the memos or diagrams pinned to it.
I must have been quiet too long, because Lori said, “Brandon, are you still there? Did something happen to Ed?”
“No, he’s fine. When did Aaron Haney leave?”
“Over a year ago, are you sure you’re, okay? What’s this all about?”
“Nothing, guess I got confused. Sorry to bother you.” I ended the call before she could say another word. I leaned forward and pressed my palms against my eyes. What the hell is going on?
I really don’t remember much about the rest of the day.
* * * * * *
The inconsistencies of that Monday were soon forgotten as I concentrated on a major upgrade requested by Cal-Tech for the acceleration process. The upgrade took seven engineers in our department thirty days to finalize. During this period, I worked fourteen-hour days, rushing home occasionally to grab a few hours of sleep and spending precious moments with Lori.
Once we completed the upgrades, we, on the engineering team were invited to witness the first test run. After the procedure ended, I felt underwhelmed.
As I watched the main computer monitor, I saw a small squiggly line moving across at a steady pace. It suddenly hesitated, reversed course and then disappeared. All of the physicists in the room went nuts. They began whooping and hollering, slapping high fives and one guy even popped the cork on a bottle of champagne. I looked at Jonah, he’s one of the guys in the engineering department. He looked back and shrugged.
Jason, another colleague, stared at the computer screen with wide eyes. Jason is a level-headed kind of guy. If he seemed concerned, maybe I should be as well.
I tapped the shoulder of the only physicist I knew by name and asked, “Eric, what just happened?”
His smile could not have been wider. “Dude, did you not just see that?”
“I saw a squiggly line reverse course and disappear. Is that important?”
“Important? Dude that was the most important discovery of the twenty-first century. We just confirmed Robert Mallett’s theory of time travel.”
“You can’t be serious. You didn’t understand what you just saw?”
I shook my head.
He snorted, looked at the ceiling and then back at me. “We just distorted space enough that a neutron went back in time. This is a monumental discovery. The implications to modern physics are huge. They’re more than huge, they’re…” He stopped and stared at the screen and, in a voice barely above a whisper, he said, “This changes our theories of time, space and the structure of the universe.” He went back to celebrating with the other physicists.
As I continued to stare at the computer screen, a feeling of dread coursed through my body. Excusing myself from the celebration, I walked back to my office through the access corridor. Halfway there, I felt a moment of light-headedness, followed by a moment of intense cold. I stopped and looked around. I was completely isolated within the accelerator repair tunnel. No windows, no air conditioning ducts blowing cold air, nothing. I stood still for a few moments. A sudden wave of queasiness replaced the feeling of freezing.
Ten minutes later, back in my office, I brought my computer back to life. I checked the time signature in the lower right corner, a few minutes after ten p.m. I closed my eyes for a few moments and then went straight to my email files. What I saw there made me shiver more than the experience in the tunnel fifteen minutes ago. The most recent email came from Lori, telling me our nine-year-old son, Zach, had won first prize at his school’s science fair earlier in the evening.
* * * * * *
Several weeks after the confirmation of Mallet’s theories, our department received a three-day weekend to recuperate from the long hours of the previous forty-five days. Adjusting to the routine of life with a nine-year-old happened without too much difficulty.
I never mentioned the change to Lori. The whys and the how never asked. On the Friday of my three-day weekend, with Lori at work and Zach at school, I looked through picture albums I had never seen. They were a chronological record of my marriage. Early pictures I recognized, the vast majority I did not. It felt like looking at someone else’s life, only that someone happened to be me.
I sorted through pictures of Zach as an infant, a toddler, his first day at kindergarten, his first day attending elementary school and pictures of me and him in all kinds of fun looking situations. None of which I remembered. How could I have forgotten nine years of my son’s life? I closed my eyes and started to sweat. The veins at my temples pounded as my heart raced. I felt my clothes sticking to me as I rushed to the bathroom and threw up.
* * * * * *
The success of sending a neutron back in time brought on a new set of complications. Everyone had to sign a Standard Form 312 Government Non-Disclosure affidavit. We were witnesses to classified information and threatened with prison if we disclosed details of any activities we observed at work. Jason refused to sign the form. Two burly U.S. Marshals arrested him and we never saw him again.
With this new level of fear hanging over our department, morale took a dive. My mood darkened even further because of the changes I could not explain. I couldn’t even talk to Lori about it.
More experiments were conducted, generally at night. Those of us in the engineering department were never asked to witness another test. I made it a point to be away from work while these experiments were conducted. Surprisingly, I did not experience any changes during this period. Six months later, they shut the accelerator down and called us into a meeting.
The gathering occurred in the cafeteria with a standing room only crowd. I arrived late and had to stand in the back, but I heard every word.
The director of the project, Boris Yanovich said, “Congratulations team. Because of the success of this facility, it has been renamed the Mallet Super Collider. Our first full year has produced results no one expected or even envisioned. We have now been tasked with a newer and even bigger endeavor.”
A murmur could be heard from the crowd, as if everyone started having a hushed conversation with their neighbor. I looked around and saw everyone nodding their heads.
“Since you have all signed your SF 312 form, I can tell you. We are going to expand the collider and make it even more powerful. Everyone’s contract will be extended another five years.”
A cheer rose and everyone started bumping fists and slapping each other on the back. I took a deep breath. While I had little evidence, the accelerator caused the changes I experienced, I had no other explanation.
Lori’s contract with the university would be up at the end of the semester and we had made plans to move north. My current contract would end on the last day of August, six months from now. We wanted to move north before Zach started middle school. Strange how quickly I slipped into the parenting mode. His needs came first. I would contact Malone and let him know I would still be leaving at the end of my current contract. The sooner we left Dallas, the happier I would be. I quietly slipped out of the meeting and went back to my cubicle.
Checking my email, I found an email from Lori. I read it several times before I leaned back in my desk chair and stared at the ceiling. She had been offered tenure at TCU. We would not be moving.
* * * * * *
August came and went, Zach started middle school, Lori became a full professor at TCU and I immersed myself in the power upgrades to the Mallet Super Collider. As time slid by, the changes I experienced a year earlier seemed to fade and my current situation became the norm. After continuously looking at pictures of my current life, memories started coming back. Not sure if I manufactured them, or maybe, just maybe, I imagined a prior life. I began to hope and believe the former. Then February of the next year came.
* * * * * *
It occurred on the last Thursday of February, the twenty-second, if I remember correctly. I had planned on leaving early that day, but Malone stopped me as I exited my cubicle. “Nelson, glad I caught you. They need you in the control room in fifteen minutes.”
“New policy, they have to have a member of the engineering department in the control booth during experiments. You drew the short straw.”
Malone frowned and started walking away. “Don’t ask questions, just be there.”
I watched as he headed to the elevators near our department. He looked back at me as the doors opened. He gave me an expression I found hard to understand. It might have been a look of sympathy or disdain, I couldn’t tell. But I will never forget it. After he left, I sat at my desk and my hands started to tremble. Closing my eyes, I seriously considered leaving the building. I felt sweat form on my forehead and my stomach clinched. I glanced at the clock on the wall. A thought struck me. Was Malone experiencing changes also? If so, his look could have been of sympathy and concern? I will never know. I never saw him again.
* * * * * *
I arrived in the control room one minute late. I didn’t know any of the physicists, but I knew the supervisor. Shashi Ramah and I had worked together on one of the major power upgrades three months earlier. I knew her to be a sharp, detail-oriented scientist with a deep understanding of quantum physics. She also happened to be one of the most beautiful women I had ever been around. As I entered the room, she smiled and walked over to me. As was her custom, she hugged me. I had noticed she did not hug other men, just me. “Thanks for coming, Brandon. We’re running a few minutes behind.”
“Did you ask for me, Shashi?”
She nodded, “You’re one of the few people in the engineering department who understand the upgrades to our power system. The project you and I worked on last fall will be critical tonight. If we have problems, you’ll understand the system and know how to fix it. I need you to go to section HB9.” Even though Shashi came from India, she spoke fluent English. Her slight sing-song Indian accent was tinted with a slight Texas drawl. I found it to be just one of her idiosyncrasies I found attractive.
The muscles in my stomach tightened. I could not think of anything to say except, “Uh… okay.”
“Here, take this radio so we can keep in touch. If we see issues with the power, we can talk.”
I took the small radio and put it in my pants pocket. Cell phones do not function in the tunnel and funds to install an intercom system have never been granted. It gave me a small bit of comfort to have it in my possession.
Walking slowly at first, I took a deep breath and picked up my pace. It took twenty minutes to reach junction HB9. This particular section is one of the most isolated tunnels of the complex. I took the radio out of my pocket.
“Shashi, I’m in position.”
“Excellent, we’ll start with a five-minute countdown.”
I pushed a button on my wrist chronograph, starting the stop-watch function. With a deep breath, I leaned against the wall opposite from the collider tube and slid down until I sat on the floor. My knees were together and I put my arms around them. As I closed my eyes, my whole body started to shiver. I felt utterly alone. Memories of the changes I had experienced a year and a half ago flooded back. I had not been present during an experiment since the night I found I had a nine-year-old son. While I still had not convinced myself the collider experiments were the cause, it seemed to be the only logical explanation.
I opened my eyes and stared at my watch as the second hand swept toward the twelve. Three minutes. Then four minutes. Finally, as the sweeping timing hand reached twelve the fifth time, I felt the collider tunnel slightly vibrate.
I closed my eyes as vertigo encircled me. A mass of cold air settled over the area where I sat. The nausea returned and I dipped my head until it rested on my knees. Knowing what would happen next, I sobbed like a small child.
* * * * * *
It felt weird driving on the left side of the road with the steering wheel on the right side of my car. It appeared to me to be the same car model, just different. As soon as I left the parking lot, I called Lori, dreading what she would tell me. She and Zach were fine. It seemed no other changes had occurred. After ending the call, I breathed a sigh of relief. I could deal with driving on the wrong side of the road.
Even though I had only experienced being a father for less than two years, I did not want this reality to end. As I drove home, I made the decision to discuss the possibilities of the collider creating a bridge into parallel universes with Shashi. No specifics. Just a what-if conversation. I did not want her to suspect I might be crazy. This thought gave me pause. I might actually need to consider this possibility.
* * * * * *
“Very unlikely, Brandon. The energy needed to create the amount of distortion you are suggesting is beyond the means of this facility.” Shashi smiled. “But it’s an interesting concept. Why do you ask?”
I shrugged. “No reason, my mind wandered last night during the test.”
“Not many engineers think like you do. Most of the ones around here just design or fix stuff. I’ve noticed you have a more…” She paused. “A more curious mind.”
“Thank you.” I felt a moment of guilt, enjoying my conversation with Shashi. My love for Lori was unquestionable and I would never do anything to compromise our relationship. But if I could be tempted, it would be by this woman. “Do you believe in parallel universes?”
She chuckled and shook her head slowly. “It’s not a matter of believing. Your question should be, does string theory and quantum physics predict parallel universes? The answer depends on your understanding. If you follow the many worlds’ interpretation, yes. There are infinite parallel universes.”
“Could we access them?”
She shrugged. “Once again, depends on your interpretation. If the cosmos is infinite, which quantum physics suggests, then the right distortion would allow access. What the correct distortion is, we have no idea at this stage of our learning.”
I just nodded, lost in my own thoughts.
“Brandon, there must be a reason you are asking about this. Please tell me.”
I opened my mouth to tell her, but we were interrupted by Aaron Haney. “Nelson, where the hell have you been? We have an emergency power surge in section HB9. Get down there immediately.”
My mind swam with the implications of seeing the man who had been my supervisor three years ago. Where was Malone and why was Haney back? I guess I sat too long, Haney screamed at me, “Get your butt going, Nelson, this isn’t a drill.”
* * * * * *
I spent the next twenty-four hours underground, coordinating repairs and software updates. When things calmed down, the rest of my team wearily returned to the above-ground office complex. I stayed to check our work one more time. Several minutes after they left, I felt the coldness and nausea. Already exhausted, fear gripped me as I leaned against a wall opposite the collider tube and started shaking uncontrollably. Perspiration ran down my face and dripped off my nose at the same time a below freezing temperature surrounded me. At some point during this period, I lost consciousness. Unaware of how long I had been out, I managed to get to my feet and head toward an elevator.
When I got to the surface, everything appeared normal. I saw no signs a near disaster had just occurred. I glanced at a clock on the wall near the elevators. Ten to five. Had I really been in the tunnel since the previous morning? Nothing made sense until I remembered my experience in the tunnel. I walked as fast as I could to my office. Everything remained as I had left it the previous day. I grabbed my cell phone from the top right-hand drawer and dialed Lori’s number as fast as I could. An old man answered and grumbled no one by the name of Lori lived there. He then abruptly ended the call.
Standing there, I stared at the phone, my eyes not seeing it. Shashi appeared at my cubicle and interrupted my urge to scream when she gave me a long kiss on the lips. “Glad I caught you. Can you pick up Lori at day-care tonight? I have to attend a meeting and I don’t think it will be over until eight or so.”
The shock of her statement and the implications made my head swim. I placed a hand on the cubicle’s wall to steady myself. Why would I need to pick up my wife at day-care? Why had Shashi kissed me so passionately?
“What’s wrong Brandon?”
I didn’t answer.
“Are you okay?”
I just stared at her.
She reached over and felt my cheek and then my forehead. “You don’t look well, but you don’t have a fever.”
I remained quiet.
“You need to go home. I’ll get out of the meeting and pick up Lori.”
Without saying a word, I nodded and headed toward the parking lot. When I got in my car, the driver’s side was back on the left side. Knowing full well another shift had occurred, I sat staring out the front window with both hands on the steering wheel. I took out my cell phone and started scrolling through the pictures on it. The more I scrolled, the more terrified I became.
All of the pictures on my phone were of Shashi and a three-year-old little girl. I appeared in numerous shots hugging Shashi and the child. We were smiling and having a wonderful time. Times I never experienced.
Lori and Zach were not in the pictures. I rested my head on the top of the steering wheel as I looked down at the pictures on my phone. When I saw the last one, tears rolled down my cheek. The picture showed a headstone, the name Lori Nelson engraved on it. As the tears flowed, I stared at the date of death on the marker. Lori had died ten years ago.
Luckily the GPS unit in my car had my home address programed. I followed it and found we lived in a large home in Arlington Heights. As I wandered through the strange house, I saw more pictures of Shashi, a little girl and me. I discovered her name was Lori. Shashi had our marriage license framed and on the wall of a room I assumed to be our bedroom. We had been married six years.
As with all the other transitions, I had to go with the cards I had been dealt. I decided I would act exhausted for the next few days while I learned about my new reality.
* * * * * *
My grief of losing Lori and Zach faded over time as I adjusted to my new life. Shashi turned out to be a loving, caring wife and mother. From careful questioning and examining personal documents in our home office desk, I learned our daughter had been named after my late wife, who had been killed in a car accident ten years ago. I discovered Shashi and Lori were close friends. As an honor to Lori’s memory, we had named our child after her. I found out that Shashi had always had a crush on me. One she did not act on until Lori had been gone for several years. Like I have mentioned, I always liked Shashi. If my new reality is without Lori and Zach, being with Shashi and our daughter would ease my grief.
I took a two-week vacation after the averted disaster episode in my previous reality. An incident which had not occurred in this timeline. When I returned to the complex, I put in for a transfer out of the team which dealt with the collider tube. I told Shashi I didn’t want to go into the tunnels ever again. My request drew questions and debate, but with Shashi’s help, the director of the facility finally granted my request.
Life with Shashi and our daughter grew routine and comfortable. Memories of Zach faded. In this reality, he had never been born, so all I possessed of him were cloudy memories. My new duties at the collider kept me out of the tunnel and I made sure I left the premises when experiments were conducted. I never brought up the topic of parallel universes with Shashi, again.
After a while, my internal grief faded and we settled into a loving and comfortable marriage. We watched our daughter grow and become a rebellious teenager and then a beautiful young woman. Memories of my shifting from one universe to the next became more a thing of nightmares than conscious thought.
Seventeen years to the date I discovered my marriage to Shashi, I had to go back into the tunnels.
* * * * * *
Alarms were sounding as I raced to Haney’s office. He stood, staring at a flat screen TV with a chart of the collider represented by junction points. Shashi stood next to him, along with several physicists I didn’t recognize. She turned to me and rushed into my embrace. Her eyes were wide and she trembled in my arms. Everyone in the room looked spooked.
“What’s going on?” My voice sounded hollow as I held my wife.
Haney stared at the TV screen. “We don’t know. We have numerous breaches of the collider tube and no clear reason.”
I remained quiet.
One of the new physicists scratched his chin and offered an opinion. “We have an electrical spike in section HB9. It appears to be spreading to other sections. If this continues, we could lose the entire complex.”
Haney looked at me. “You know this section like the back of your hand. Can you fix it?”
“Considering I haven’t been down there in seventeen years and I have no earthly idea of what’s wrong, I doubt it.”
Haney took a deep breath. “Get down there and give us your assessment.”
I shook my head. “No. Send someone who’s been there recently.”
“They’re already in other areas doing the same thing.”
Realizing I might be the only person available to prevent a disaster, I made my decision. Shashi held me tight, not letting me go. I gently broke her embrace and kissed her. “I’ll be careful.”
She shook her head. “Don’t go, Brandon, please.”
I grabbed a radio as I walked out of the office heading toward the elevators.
When I emerged moments later, smoke filled the tunnel several sections from HB9. Breathing became difficult, so I stopped by an emergency station and took out an oxygen mask. As I got closer to HB9 I felt the nausea and cold return.
A sudden realization flooded over me. I screamed into the mask, “No, not again!” I fell to my knees as these sensations, not felt in years, swept over me. The dizziness, nausea and light headedness overpowered me. I keyed the radio and called for help. All I got in response was static. Loud, total static as if the world had abandoned me. Just before I blacked out, I remembered seeing thick black smoke billowing around me.
* * * * * *
How long I lay there unconscious, I will never know. When I woke up, the emergency lights were out and total darkness prevailed. I had kept my cell phone in my pocket for some reason and used the flashlight function to illuminate the tunnel. Dust and cobwebs were all I saw. Water dripped somewhere in the distance, but from which direction I could not tell. My head pounded like I had been on a two-day bender and my joints were so stiff I could barely walk. I ripped off the mask and keyed the radio again. It only emitted silence, no static or any sound at all. I noted the battery indicator showed fifty percent power.
A sign next to me on the tunnel wall indicated an emergency exit lay several hundred feet behind me. Turning, I staggered toward it. When I arrived, I found the door rusted, slightly ajar and off its hinges. It would not open wider, so I squeezed into the stairwell and headed up. The absolute darkness gave me pause. Without the cell phone light, I would never have found the exit or been able to navigate the stairs.
When I got to the main floor, sunlight filtered through holes in the ceiling. A fine gray powder covered everything. I had to wave my hand in front of my face to clear the air. The stairwell led to an area next to an exterior door and I hurried outside to get away from the dust.
What I saw sent chills up my spine. Overgrown weeds dominated the scene. Misshapen trees reclaimed the cracked concrete of the parking lot. Abandoned cars sat rusting on rims, their tires pieces of cracked twisted black material. Dark clouds raced toward the east and what sunlight I could see remained weak and filtered. I turned and looked back at the accelerator complex. Whole sections had collapsed and the building appeared to be ancient.
I heard neither birds, bugs nor animals as I stood there, the silence deafening. The cold wind blowing out of the west stirred the dust covering everything. I bent down and ran my finger over the sidewalk. When I brought it up, the dust appeared white, like ash. I smelled it and immediately started coughing, my stomach retching.
As a blister appeared on my finger, a sudden realization struck me. I had been thrown into a parallel universe where nuclear annihilation had been released on the world.
I looked up at the ashen sky and fell to my knees. Turning to glare at the building, I shook my fist and screamed, “You did this. Damn you all to hell.” As a final darkness descended over me, breathing became difficult. My last thoughts were of Shashi, my lovely daughter, my dead wife, Lori and my long-lost son Zach.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available