Temporal Sideburns

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Maria didn’t know what was going on. Strange men with guns had burst into her home. Jacob tried to run, but those guns lit up, firing bright bursts of blue light, and he fell to the ground. She stared in horror as the men turned to look at her.

The one thing she did know was that this was somehow connected to her dreams. She’d had a lot of them lately – vivid ones. She’d seen herself playing with a small boy, crying in the rain, getting into a shouting match over the phone. The only thing the dreams had in common was that they didn’t seem to fade like normal dreams did, and that she always emerged from them with a horrible migraine.

She had no idea what the intruders had to do with her dreams, but they somehow felt the same. Maybe this was just another one, and she’d wake up with a splitting headache.

“Sorry, Ma’am,” one of them said. “I promise you we’re not here to hurt you. This will all be over in a minute.”

The other one sighed. “Why are you bothering, Rueben? She’s not going to remember.” His voice sounded familiar. She couldn’t see his face behind the polished glass mask, but Maria couldn’t shake the feeling he was avoiding looking at her.

“Look at her. She’s suffering from asynchronization.”

“You can tell that easily?”

“Get a few more cases under your belt and you’ll start to recognize it, too.”

She didn’t understand what they were talking about, but their casual tone annoyed her. “If you’re here to rob me, the good jewelry’s in the dresser upstairs. Otherwise, could you explain why you broke in here and shot my husband.”

Rueben took off his helmet, and despite her fear and irritation, Maria had to fight not to laugh. He had the biggest sideburns she’d ever seen. She’d always found sideburns funny, and she teased Jacob constantly about his own.

“This is going to sound strange, but he’s not your husband… or at least, he’s not supposed to be.”

Maria abruptly got over her amusement. “You’re wrong. We just celebrated our first anniversary last week.”

As if on cue, Jacob groaned and began to get up. He was alive!

The other intruder kicked him once in the side, then pointed his gun at Jacob’s head. “Don’t move.” The gun hummed, blue light leaking out through the seams.

Maria rushed to Jacob’s side, and put her arms around him. “Leave him alone!”

“She’s spirited, just like her daughter. No wonder he shifted to her,” the man said, a tone of disgust creeping into his voice.

“Daughter? What are you talking about? Did you break into our house just to spout nonsense at me?”

Rueben spoke up. “Carla Estaban should be born January 7th, 2018. She’s supposed to die on March 29th, 2045. Don’t worry,” he added to his partner. “She won’t remember the specifics, even if the asynchronization continues. Anyway, Carla’s lack of birth represents an cyclical deviation from the timeline.”

“Don’t listen to them,” Jacob groaned. The masked man standing over them kicked him in the ribs again.

“Did you really think we wouldn’t find you?” he demanded. “You must have gone through a thousand iterations before you got this to work, and you left your fingerprints on every last one of them.”

Jacob glared up at his assailant. “I couldn’t change Carla’s life. What other choice did I have?”

The other man ripped his helmet off. Maria had thought she couldn’t have been more confused, only to be proven wrong. Jacob stood there, pointing a gun down at the Jacob who lay on the floor.

“You could have accepted it! You could have honored her memory and moved on with your life! You could have wallowed in self-pity until you worked up the courage to end it all! Anything would be better than this sick farce!”

“Calm down, son,” Rueben said, putting a hand on the other-Jacob’s shoulder.

“Jacob, please tell me what’s going on.” She wasn’t even sure which one she was asking.

Other-Jacob looked at Rueben. “She won’t remember any of the details?”

Rueben shrugged. “If she understands enough of what’s going on, the asynchonization should pass and she won’t remember anything.”

“I met your daughter in the year 2040. We dated, fell in love, got married. The whole deal. It was our third anniversary when…” He trailed off, looking away. “I couldn’t take it. She was everything to me. But with time, and help from my friends, I began to move forward. That’s when the Time Corps showed up.”

“The Time Corps?” Maria asked. “So you’re my son-in-law from the future, come back to… what, exactly?”

“Let me finish, please.” Pain showed in his eyes – identical to her husband’s – and fell silent. “There was a… they call them Divergence Points. One event, but two wildly different outcomes that split the timeline. I came to terms with Carla’s death – or at least I’m starting to. But the other outcome involved me getting his hands on a time machine and a serious case of denial.”

“But why come back here? Why not stop Carla from dying in the first place?”

Rueben shook his head. “Can’t travel within your own lifespan. Don’t know why not, but it can’t be done.”

Maria took a deep breath, trying to process what she’d been told. “So… you – him, rather. Since he couldn’t have my daughter…” She felt rather ill at the thought of it.

The Jacob she knew, or at least thought she knew, spoke up. “You were always so nice to me, and your daughter was so much like you.”

“That’s not helping,” she told him. She looked up at the time travelers as a sudden thought churned her stomach further. “If I married him… wouldn’t that mean that in the future he’d marry his own.”

Other-Jacob laughed mirthlessly. “No, that’s where I show how phenomenally stupid I apparently could have been. If he married you, Carla never would have been born. I – we never would have met her, and this grief-induced idiocy never would have happened.”

“Anyone ever told you your a little hard on yourself?” Rueben asked.

“So then Carla would have been born,” Maria said, finishing the line of reasoning. “Which means everything would have happened again, only to not happen again and…” It was difficult just to think about it.

“Like I said, cyclical deviation.”

“And this asynchronousity thing?”

“Asynchronization. You’ve been having migraines lately, right?”

She nodded.

“That’s your brain getting phantom memories from timelines that almost happened. It took Jacob a lot of tries to get this right, and each one almost formed a new timeline. Now that you know what’s going on, that should hopefully go away when this timeline collapses.”

“Collapses?”

“Once we destabilize this Jacob, his entire half of the Divergence Point will go away. You’ll have never met him. You’ll have gone on with your life the way you were supposed to.”

“Is that everything?” Other-Jacob asked.

“Guess so.” He pulled out a small device. It buzzed when he turned it on. The Jacob on the ground began to struggle, but his alternate held him down.

Maria stared at the device. “Is that an electric razor?”

“Don’t ask,” Rueben said as he ran the razor down Jacob’s cheek, littering the carpet with small brown hairs. “Never understood it myself.


Maria woke up to the sounds of Carla crying over the baby monitor.

“Is it my turn?” Eric mumbled.

“I’ll get her.” She got to her feet. “I had the strangest dream.”

Eric retreated under the covers, but he called out. “Oh? What was it about?”

She paused. “You know. I can’t remember.”

Prompt: Temporal Sideburns

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This week’s one is a little silly. Write a sample where sideburns are actually a tool used by time-travelers to lock themselves within a timeline.

Good luck and good writing!