“Opportunity does not knock, it presents itself when you beat down the door.”
— Kyle Chandler
I’m elbow-deep in a sink of dishwater when I hear a knock at the door. I sigh as I rinse off my hands. “Ain’t that always the way?” I say to my cat, Birdie, as I leave the kitchen. She simply narrows her eyes from her spot on the couch and watches me approach the front door.
The person knocks again, more urgently this time, and I peer through the peephole. It’s a man, rather thin and fairly young. He doesn’t seem to be carrying a clipboard or any other type of marketing literature, so I risk it and open the door.
“Yes?” I say.
The man looks frazzled, to say the least. His clothes are raggedy and torn in multiple places. His shoes have definitely seen better days, and he looks as though he forgot to shave both this morning and yesterday. His eyes are bright blue, almost painful in their exhilaration at my opening the door.
“Hi! Yes! Er, are you Cathleen Richards?” the man asks, jamming dirty hands into his oversized coat pockets and then removing them again.
“That’s what it says on the mailbox,” I say pleasantly, though I keep the door about halfway closed.
“Great! Good. I am– Well, the thing is– I have . . . information for you.” The man seems incredibly flustered and keeps glancing nervously over his shoulder. I wonder if someone is chasing him.
“Do you need some kind of help, sir? I can call for the police–”
“No, no, nothing like that,” he says absently, again looking around. “Um, I don’t know how to . . . That is to say, it’s rather hard to explain . . . ”
I’m not sure what to make of this display. “I’m afraid I don’t have a lot of money, but–”
Again, he interrupts me. “Oh no, gosh no. It’s not that at all. I – I guess it’s best just to be as blunt as possible. Yes.”
He seems to be talking more to himself than me, and I begin to regret opening the door.
But then he blurts out, “I’m from the future.”
I raise an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”
The man throws up his hands. “I’m from the future. I come in peace?” A lopsided grin creases across his face.
“Yes, approximately 150 years to the day.” He yanks up a sleeve to check an odd-shaped watch. “Almost exactly 150 years.”
I stare at the man, who gives an apologetic shrug. “Like I said, hard to explain. I know you probably don’t believe me–”
I give a little snort. He nods acquiescently.
“–but I can prove it.”
From another pocket, the man pulls out what looks like a newspaper, but the text is bright and the pictures move.
“They still have newspapers in the future?” I say disbelievingly.
“We’re going through a bit of retro stage right now,” he explains. “Phonographs are all the rage, too, though of course with wireless music.”
He shakes out the electronic newspaper and holds it in front of me. “See the date?”
I do, but– “That’s hardly enough evidence,” I say, pushing the paper down. “Anything digital can be easily altered.”
The man flushes, pink creeping in around his scruffy face. “Yes, well, it was the first thing I thought of . . . ”
I feel a little sorry for him, whatever his mania might be. “I thought you had to tell me something. So don’t you have information or something about me or my future?”
The man’s flush deepens. “Ah, well, see, that’s been an issue, actually. Records are . . . spotty at best about this particular time period, and we only managed to get your name and address–and a few other bits of vital information.” He gives me a pleading, please-believe-me look.
I glance around the empty street, then open the door wider. “Why don’t you come in.”
The two of us are seated on my couch a few minutes later, Birdie having been scared away by the stranger. I’m still wary, of course, but the man does seem perfectly harmless, if a few mental sandwiches short of a picnic.
“Would you like something to drink or anything?”
The man shakes his head emphatically. “No, thank you, I’m good. I appreciate you inviting me in, I realize how ridiculous this all sounds.”
I give a noncommittal smile.
“Why don’t you just tell me what you came here for? To this time, I mean,” I say, trying not to let the fact that I’m humoring him creep into my voice.
“It’s a long story,” he sighs, and checks his watch again. “Time, ironically, is not always on my side . . .
“The short of is: you’re in terrible danger.”
The man gives the ceiling a wretched look. “You’re famous in my time. But not for something you did, but for something that was done to you. You . . . get killed, and that starts off a chain of events that leads to some cataclysmic events.”
I shake my head, trying to take this all in. “My death brings about the end of the world?”
“N-no, not the world, but economic downturn, a couple civil wars . . . ” He waves a hand. “It gets very complicated and political, but after a lot of research for the source of all these happenings, we managed to pin it to this time to a specific person: you.”
A short laugh escapes me. “I’m sorry, but me? I’m nobody! How can my death influence so much?”
The man just stares sadly at me. “I don’t know, but you’re definitely not a nobody. You’re Somebody destined for great things. But someone will try to stop that from happening. By killing you.”
“And so you’re here to–”
“Warn you, yes. To tell you to leave this place and find somewhere safe, with people who can protect you. Even I don’t know how this will affect history, but it’s better than the alternative.”
I sit back in my seat. “I’d think a place with digital phonographs would be a pleasant place to live.”
The man’s expression sours. “For those lucky enough, it is. But it’s wrong for only a few to benefit. We used to be a great country, and now–er, in the future–most of it lies in ruins. Both literally and metaphorically.”
He shoots me a look. “We need to you to stay alive. To fix that. To fix your own future.”
It’s almost too much to comprehend. “Who’s ‘we’?”
“The time-travelling organization I’m part of. There’s a bunch of them, but as far as we know, we’re the only ones trying to fix the economy, instead of benefiting from it through time travel.”
“I see . . . ”
The man frowns. “You know, you’re taking all this very well. I thought I’d have to do a lot more convincing.”
I grin. “What, with another newspaper? You hardly came prepared.”
His eyes narrow suspiciously, and I press on, “That was your big plan? To come find me and hope to convince me that you’re not insane, but are trying to save my life? That’s hilarious! Where did you guys get that idea? Those old Terminator films?”
And I laugh and laugh and laugh.
The change in my voice is obvious, and the man jumps to his feet. “Who are you?” he demands, and his hands tremble as he searches his pockets. But I know he has no weapon.
I also stand up. “Let’s just say I’m not Cathleen Richards.”
I pull out my laser gun from my belt and fix it on the man’s chest. “And I’m also from the future.”
Eh, I didn’t like doing this prompt as much as the others. It seems that most of these require characters relying on trusting random strangers in odd situations, and that’s simply quite unbelievable, even for fiction. Still, I managed to make this one work in a way that kinda makes sense, though the sparse prose really isn’t my best (not really sure how the present tense works, either). I had to make it first person for the reveal to work, though it does mean there’s a distinct lack of internal thought that really ought to be there, but obviously that would give the game away, since the main character (who does not lie in the narration) knows from the very beginning who this guy is and why he’s there. Anyway, it was a challenge I accepted and CONQUERED.
Want to do the challenge yourself? Today’s prompt is: “A knock at the door catches you off-guard. Upon answering it, you’re greeted by a man who says he’s from the future–and he can prove it. More importantly, he says he has information that will save your life.”
“149 – 155 High Street, Henley-in-Arden – door handle on 155 High Street” by Elliott Brown is licensed under CC BY 2.0.