Helipads in Heaven - read the prologue and the first chapter here!
If you knew her, you’d know that Goose was the most interesting character Valley Park Preparatory School had the misfortune of meeting. She was the girl who halted during physical education classes to stare skyward at helicopters, hawks—anything to float her mind away from the reality she lived in. She was the girl who scribbled routinely in her notebooks and in the crevices of her math assignments, who wore an eccentric bomber jacket decorated with patches even when the weather was too warm, but most of all, whether her teachers considered it to be something so precious or not, she was the girl who dared to dream.
Goose daydreamed her way through elementary school, from the moments in which she’d imagine the protagonists of Star Wars whisking her off to a galaxy far, far away to the ones where she’d imagine a future she barely believed in: a dazzling career, fans who would support her better than her classmates ever did, and to one day witness the scribbles she’d escaped with on the shelves of a bookstore, on billboards and the big screen—everywhere. But these were very grown-up dreams, as her fourth-grade teacher, Ms. Vincent, would say, and as a handful of her classmates would tell her, stupid and impossible. Not once did Goose listen, of course.
She never meant any harm with her scribbles or her lack of attention—she only did so to get through the day in its entirety. Besides, there weren’t many things more beautiful than a world at the hands of her imagination. Goose did all right in school and excelled in the classes she loved most, even managing acceptable grades in math. But in a preparatory school at the foot of the Los Angeles hills, the city of angels and movie stars and a soon-to-be subject of a time-traveling breakthrough twenty years in the future, these expectations were always unreachable.
One time, Goose had an idea better than all of the others (which she believed each time she began a new project) and dedicated much of her time to perfecting the action scenes and the plot twist endings and magical details that a ten-year-old like herself would focus on. During a math lesson on a concept she simply could not grasp no matter how hard she tried, she wrote furiously on a blank sheet of paper, illustrating her characters and their actions, accompanying them with exciting words and genuine enthusiasm. Between taking notes on long division and glancing up to make certain she did not fall too far behind in Ms. Vincent’s monotonous lesson, Goose wrote about her talking animals with elemental powers and an ordinary girl who looked a bit too much like herself to be a coincidence. The scene she was writing would otherwise be known as the most challenging part of the story—the end—but at last, the scribble was complete. Goose understood the story dwelling within her mind.
“Gotcha!” she exclaimed, etching in a final sentence, the best of all: THE END.
Unfortunately for Goose, the word had slipped out before she’d gotten the chance to think, and in turn, attracted the wrong kind of attention.
Ms. Vincent, who had been writing equations and sample problems on the whiteboard for her students to then copy into their notebooks and memorize, caught wind of Goose’s doing. The two made eye contact. The dread crept in at once.
“As we learn the principles of long division, class, it is important that we pay the highest amount of attention we possibly can,” Ms. Vincent addressed the whole class, but the gaze she held rested on Goose and Goose alone. “That means making sure we are not distracted by…anything else.”
It wasn’t even a few seconds until the rest of the class was staring, and Goose figured by now that there wasn’t an escape from what was to come. As much as Ms. Vincent spoke to and scolded everyone, the fingers would always point at her.
The matter grew worse when Ms. Vincent furrowed her brow and mumbled, “Dillon…” That was Goose’s real name, Dillon, and while she didn’t hate it, she found comfort in the name Goose. It was formerly her nickname as a toddler and young child, one that her parents fondly used. A friend of hers overheard it once and decided to use it. Despite the fact that she was growing out of it, the name stuck like glue. Not to mention, she really did love birds.
There were birds in the story she had previously finished, too—hawks and falcons, which were her favorites, and even a few geese to add to the equation. Fearing that the pages were about to be confiscated, that the teasing from her classmates would get worse, and that Ms. Vincent would shout at her again, Goose brushed her arm over the table and swept the pieces of bound paper off of her desk. They landed in a heap in her backpack, the sound having the opposite effect as it only drew more attention in her direction.
“Yes, Ms. Vincent?” she replied after a tense moment of silence.
Stalking from the whiteboard to the location on the left side of the classroom in which Goose’s desk was, she crouched down as if to be at eye-level with her. “I’ve been a teacher for a long time and, well,” she reminded her, “I know just about every trick in the book.”
A smile tugged at Ms. Vincent’s lips. “If it’s so important, show me your little creation.”
“My what?” Goose furrowed her brow, though she of course knew exactly what her teacher was referring to—the work to which she’d caught on—and there was no hiding anymore.
Ms. Vincent pointed in the direction of Goose’s backpack, where several papers spilled from its opened mouth. “You know.”
Slowly and without much of a choice, Goose retrieved each and every paper she’d been scribbling on from her backpack, placing them side by side with her notes detailing long division. “You want me to share them?” she asked, perhaps too eagerly. There was still a spark of hope inside her, like somehow, this interaction would go differently than the others did—that for once, despite the actuality that Ms. Vincent never picked her to share her writing-related work or otherwise, this was a redeemable chance.
This assumption was furthered when Goose received a nod in response.
“It’s a book I’ve been working on, about my cat, Strider, with—”
“Now, Dillon, in the future, let’s remember to save your daydreams for outside of school,” Ms. Vincent stopped her from continuing, raising faint laughter from the rest of the class. “I’m impressed that you aspire to try and write a novel one day, but for now, let’s remain in the real world, okay?”
“The real world?” Goose scrunched up her nose at the comment. “I’m not playing make-believe, Miss. I’m serious.”
“You’re creative, sure, but also disrupting my lesson.” Ms. Vincent did not need to follow up with that particular sentence, for just the phrase alone was enough to glaze tears over the edges of Goose’s eyes. “Please see me after class.”
She could feel the glares of her classmates. They flared up her cheeks and caused each and every hair on the base of her neck to prickle and stand. This was humiliating—beyond humiliating. Goose felt almost on display for everyone to see and point at, the class laughingstock. She was trapped in a glass cage like a creature to be gawked at, and right then, wanted no more than to faint and be sent home. Goose always wanted to pass out in scenarios as embarrassing as these—just like the time when she had dropped her computer in front of the class and had broken it, or just like the time her physical education teacher yelled at her for tracking mud into the classroom.
Alas, Goose could not pass out.
Ms. Vincent stalked back to her position at the front of the classroom. Even in the absence of her attention toward Goose, this was not the end of the punishment.
“Gonna cry, Dillon?” a boy named Davis Cartman teased.
Davis and Goose had begun as friends in the third grade—Goose’s first year at Valley Park Preparatory School—but as the year went by and fourth grade commenced, he turned sour. This was the same with Ashton and Katie and many other classmates Goose once found herself friends with.
Filling her lungs with a trembling breath, Goose answered, “I’m not.”
Davis ignored the remark, eyes wandering around his audience of staring, laughing peers. “I think Dillon’s about to cry, guys! Can you believe it? What a crybaby!”
“Crybaby!” someone else shouted, presumably Ashton.
Goose bit her lip as if it would do anything to prevent the embarrassment from surfacing in the form of a sob. “It’s Goose—”
“I’m sorry, Goose.” Davis sneered. “I hate to break your bubble, but Ms. Vincent is right: You’re too dull-headed. I think it’s time to retire your dreams and pay attention like the rest of us.”
Goose’s head jerked in the direction of Ms. Vincent, and she called her name in hopes that she would hear what Davis was saying and correct him. She wanted Ms. Vincent to insist that she was not telling Goose to give up her dreams or that she was at all stupid. She did not.
Instead, Ms. Vincent shot only a single glance over and plainly shook her head. The laughing, the teasing, and everything else, persisted.
Goose leaned back into her chair and defeatedly wiped away her tears.
This was it—she was sure of it. She would never write again.
If that was the case, of course, Valley Park Preparatory School would’ve never been misfortuned to meet her. As unforgettable as she was, her memory would’ve been left in the dust if it was not for one simple fact.
Sooner than she would have imagined, Goose would prove each and every fool who’d dared to doubt her wrong, because each and every dream she used as a beacon of hope to wade through her days, little by little, came true.
Dillon Hershkop is a legend.
Although she would humbly reject the truth and say that she is nothing more than lucky, everyone knows her name. Once a private person, it is uncommon that she goes outside without finding some reference to her, her works, her life—and while parts of the fame she’s accumulated make her uncomfortable, there is a part of her that does enjoy it. These were once her own dreams, after all. And while she does not bring up herself as much as one would think, she is proud of who she has become.
If you peered inside the vast windows of 285 Opulent Way, her home in Bel Air, less than an hour’s drive from where she grew up, you’d find that the interior is decorated with posters. Many of them are of her book covers and the media they were adapted into, as well as awards and other accolades she boasts in private. The walls are equally decorated with her husband’s work, both a musician and fabulous illustrator (who even helped Dillon when adapting her work into graphic novels and children’s books). His name is Daniel Del Rey and in other words, he is her biggest supporter.
The two of them met at Dillon’s first movie premiere. It was Dillon who approached him, since she was an avid listener of his music and he was a voracious consumer of her books. While she will never admit it if you dare to ask, she definitely fostered a fondness for him long before they met. Then again, if you ask him, he’ll openly tell you that they were always meant to be.
Their children are Wren and EJ, five-year-old twins who possess Daniel’s sandy brown hair and Dillon’s focused, mahogany eyes, awake as the sun begins to rise over the mountains. But Dillon, she’s been up longer. She cannot stop thinking.
Dillon Hershkop is a household name, a woman frozen in pop culture, but she is also incredibly bored. That is precisely why when she received the inquiry—the email in question that’s causing such uncontrollable thought—she accepted it, underwent several meetings, signed more wavers than she ever had in the accumulated thirty years of her life, and proceeded without a second thought.
Dear Ms. Hershkop,
My name is Dr. Haider Moreno from the Center for Experimental Science at Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Our department ranges from science otherwise thought to be impossible—anything from metaphysical sciences, fascinating gadgets and equipment—to our current project, the one we’re contacting you about: Time travel. Given your proximity to the public—and the general nature of your science fiction novels—you have been selected as a potential subject for this groundbreaking endeavor. I know it sounds like fiction, but my team and I have been studying these processes for years, and we believe that you can change the world. Not to mention, should you proceed, I’m sure you will return with remarkable inspiration for a riveting new novel.
Please let me know when you are willing to meet and what information you may need to continue.
Now, standing at the edge of the balcony attached to her bedroom, Dillon is beginning to panic. She has signed the contracts with the intention of exactly what is promised: Change the world, go back in time, and return with a brand new novel. There are several things, however, that have not occurred to her until today—the day on which she is to leave. First, she does not appreciate the feeling of being expendable. As the first woman to travel through time, she may never return. Though she’s received a somewhat detailed explanation of the technology and equipment, the memories are fleeting and have been replaced with her anxiety. Second, she has never felt like much of a risk-taker. Previously, she left the unforgettable adventures and dazzling heroics to the characters in her novels, but being as bored and exhausted with her career as she’s been, this is an opportunity she won’t refuse. She can’t.
The articles have already been released, the perspectives and the news have taken the media by storm—
Bestselling author Dillon Hershkop to participate in an experimental time-traveling endeavor.
Steel Frontier author and executive producer, Dillon Hershkop, signs a contract with JPL to participate in a previously confidential, now revealed, experiment.
Is Dillon Hershkop doing everything she can to stay relevant?
Furthermore, Dillon has already received a hefty advance for the novel she promises to write if she returns, and considering writer’s block has plagued her for the last few months, she can’t think of anything considerably better than a fresh idea like nothing she’s ever written before. That alone is tempting enough.
She permits a sigh to escape her lips and moves forward. Stretching out in the distance is a view that has become a familiar face each morning and night when she needs the space to ponder in peaceful silence. Hills roll out before her, freshly iridescent from an uncommon rainstorm. There are houses lining the streets. Each of them is customized in ways Dillon admires, for if she wasn’t an author, maybe she’d be an architect—as long as she is creating something. Cast off to one side, is the sparkling expanse of the California coastline. On the other side, pierced through the mountains, is downtown Los Angeles. If you squint past the pollution and look close enough, you may be able to spot the tallest buildings. Dillon always looks for them. She finds comfort in their view—buildings she once saw from her childhood residence in La Crescenta.
Although she has many constants, her love for the city is surely one of them. Her other constant is Daniel and the rest of the family she has built—and the way her eyes will always search for helicopters amid the sky, the way she still enjoys the same songs she did when she was a little girl. If she is to be slingshotted twenty years into the past as Dr. Moreno claims, then she will enjoy catching up with her younger self.
Somewhere in her train of thought, the sliding balcony doors screech open. Dillon glances over in time to catch sight of Daniel. He rubs his eyes as they flutter exhaustedly and his lips stretch into a loud yawn. “Morning. What time did you wake up?”
Dillon is well aware of the fact that it is far earlier than his usual wake-up time. “Hey,” she responds, pulling him close before answering his question. “Honestly, I’m not sure I ever went to bed.”
Daniel’s eyes fall shut for several seconds. He gazes at Dillon, then toward the ocean, and then back at her again. “I know we’ve already talked about this—I know I’ve already told you this—but you don’t have to do this today. There’s still time for second thoughts if you want to reconsider.”
It has taken a fair amount of conversation and assurance for her husband not to panic and beg her to cancel every time he thinks about it. Dillon understands this perfectly, suspecting that he still panics even if he doesn’t show any visible signs of distress; she knows he doesn’t want to alarm her further. But then again, Dillon can’t be more terrified and excited at the same time.
“It’s going to be okay,” she lies to both him and herself. “I promise, Daniel.”
He pulls her in tightly and plants a comforting kiss on her forehead. She continues to force the facade of someone who is only elated and not in the slightest bit frightened for the sake of the both of them. It does not work.
“Assuming nothing goes horribly wrong, I’ll be back in two days with groundbreaking research done and the basis of a new novel,” she says through chattering teeth. “I’m just like one of my characters, huh?”
“That’s one way to put it.” Daniel’s timid expression is broken by a chuckle, and since time is of the essence and Dillon must not be late, he continues softly, “I’ll walk you out.”
The two of them walk back through the house and are closely followed by their cat, Major Tom, a surprisingly humongous Maine Coon who, despite being larger than the dog they had for a few years when they’d first moved in together, is still a kitten. Dillon crouches down by the swooping front door of her home, stroking her hand down Major Tom’s head, back, and finally, his tail.
Of course, she cannot leave without wishing a vague farewell to her children.
Wren and EJ come bursting down the stairs, their giggles bubbling easily from their lips. They each give Dillon an individual hug—Wren first, then EJ. Daniel is the last to do so.
“I love you,” he whispers as she leans into his shoulder.
Dillon is interrupted by EJ’s increasingly anxious voice—as if he has possibly overheard his parents conversing, as if he knows the potential risk of the project. “When are you coming back, Mom?”
“Yeah, Mommy,” Wren, notably the curious one, chimes in. “Where are you going?”
Gritting her teeth, Dillon shoots Daniel a look that can only be described as helpless. “I’m going on a…”
“A work trip,” Daniel finishes for her. He swoops up both children and carries them in each arm. “Mommy will be back in two days, okay? She’s on an important work mission.”
Something about the phrase “important work mission” settles a fair amount of the churning in her stomach. It makes her feel important—not that she isn’t already, but like she’s a character in one of her stories. Though she has found a love for darker writing over the last several years (in connection to what was a depressing lull in her career), the heroes always win in the end. Maybe I’m a hero, a thought passes through her head. Maybe that’s what this is.
As Dillon is wished away by the waves of her family, as she walks toward her self-driving, futuristic Tesla, she doesn’t look back. She can’t help but wonder how she got here, for sometimes, especially when she’s anxiously anticipating something, the time moves so slowly and so fast at the same time that she barely remembers the waiting period at all.
With one final smile, Dillon slips through her open car door and activates the GPS. “Beginning self-driving route to Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Center for Experimental Science,” it says in a robotic voice. “Have a nice ride.”
The car begins to move automatically, away from her house, away from everything she loves, in the direction of a fate she is not entirely sure about. She folds her hands into her lap and tries to wipe away the sweat beading down her face.
In times like these, Dillon has developed a typical habit of talking to herself. “It’s going to be okay, Dillon. This is what you want. This is what you need.” Maybe it is what she wants and needs, but that doesn’t mean the thought of what she’s about to do is any less terrifying. “Time traveling?” she continues to mumble. “What the hell have you gotten yourself into?”
Dillon knows that if she panics like this she will never reach a point in which she can even step inside the doors of the Center for Experimental Science, so she does whatever she can to soothe the thoughts of her almost always roaring mind. She turns on a song that her mother first introduced her to when she was young and still never ceases to flip her emotions around. The song is “Rocket Man” by Elton John, but what else would it have been, really? As the chorus begins, she sings softly and directs her attention both to the lyrics and the view before her. The Los Angeles cliffside merges into a freeway, her car picking up speed. The city air blows Dillon’s hair in different directions through her car’s open windows, ruffling her hair into a disorganized mess.
Great. Now Dr. Moreno will notice how much of a train wreck she truly is. She closes the windows to not disrupt her appearance further.
In an untimely manner, right before the chorus of the song, the music is cut off. Her cellphone rings and the interface on her computer reveals the name of her literary agent, Safa Barerra. She picks up the phone swiftly.
“Dillon, it’s Safa. I just wanted to check in. Have you decided whether or not you’re going to follow through with the autobiography project? Are you conducting the research with JPL today?” Since Dillon is certain she has answered both of these questions numerous times, she suspects that there is a deeper reason behind the nature of this phone call—perhaps something much simpler than business.
Still, she does not have the energy to respond in an acceptable amount of time.
“Dillon?” Safa echoes yet again, this time in a softer, more genuine voice.
Though she has many, Safa remains to be Dillon’s closest friend, as well as one of the few people who are there for her each time the critics turn sour and her writing is strained. Particularly, after the film adaptation for one of her newer books, Apex Skull, was released (of which she had been the executive producer, and did everything in her power to make certain that it would be faithful to the story) and readers absolutely tore it apart. So, whatever happens following today, whether the experiment will work or Dillon will be made a fool (or worse), Safa will be there for her.
Finally, after more seconds than she should’ve made her friend wait, Dillon answers, “Ah, yes—the experiment. I’m on my way right now, actually.”
“And how are you fairing?” Safa inquires, but it isn’t hard to assume the answer. “Your emotional well-being is more important than this experiment, of course.”
Dillon does her a favor by refraining from going into a long and emotional monologue about how terrifying the thought of going back in time is, no matter how much the doctor assures her that it is controlled and she will return, and how if it doesn’t work, she’ll be chastised by the media—and instead undermines her own feelings by stating, “If I’m being honest, I’m masking my nervousness with…pure excitement.” It’s true, though—Dillon is excited. But thrill and dread can, at their height, feel indescribably similar. Even for her, her internal opinions jump around enough that it’s hard to figure out what she’s excited about.
“And you have a lot to be excited about,” giggles Safa, probably grinning ear to ear. “Soon, not only will you be America’s number one bestselling author, but our very first time traveler as well.”
Dillon does agree. “Sounds remarkable, doesn’t it?”
“More than that,” she replies, the hurriedness returning to her voice. “Now, I’ve got a meeting to attend, but I’ll catch up with you when you return. Buh-bye for now.”
“Bye, Safa.” Dillon’s voice is weak, almost inaudible. “See you soon?”
With a click from the other end, Dillon is alone again—painfully, agonizingly alone. She continues to do what she always does to keep her thoughts at bay: resumes the song, hoarsely sings the lyrics, and studies the ridges of the Angeles Crest in the distance. Those hills were once her home, and while she now only visits on occasion, they will never not be. The houses look different now—some of them newer, some of them still representing the patterns and styles that she knew upon living in both La Crescenta, La Cañada, and the surrounding areas. If time travel works in the way she suspects, then Dillon does hope that she will have a chance to view the town as it was during her time there, because besides being a writer, she is an avid enthusiast of nostalgia—if that’s even a thing at all.
This reminiscence continues as the NASA sign proudly stands in the distance, surrounded by the rest of the structures that host the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The memories drown out everything else.
DeleteCreated with Sketch.
When Dillon was in preschool, she wrote that she wanted to be a scientist at JPL, have one child because two were too many, and have an infinite amount of cats because one could never have too many. Her aspirations have shifted since then.
Or not, she reminds herself, because here she is checking into one of the most secure campuses in the city—and the most private building at JPL in its entirety—for an experiment that will change the world as everyone knows it. Furthermore, she is only a two-minute drive from the preschool she once attended.
She walks through the automatic doors of the Center for Experimental Science and is met by a front desk employee who greets her with a smile. “Dillon Hershkop, please follow me this way.” Upon going through several stages of security, she is brought into one of the center’s many laboratories. The room is lit up by harshly fluorescent lights in varying colors, enough so that her eyes ache from the strain. Scientists race in every direction in order to be sure that everything goes according to plan.
After a few seconds of standing there uncomfortably, Dillon is approached by a scientist she recognizes: Dr. Moreno. He’s an older man, probably around sixty or seventy years old, with frazzled, silver hair and a grin plastered over his face that causes Dillon to believe he’s the closest representation of a mad scientist she’s ever seen.
“Ms. Hershkop,” he greets. “it’s a pleasure to finally meet you in person.” Prior to this day, the two have only spoken over the phone and in video meetings, considering how busy both of them have been. Now, on the most important day of the entire experiment (and maybe of their lives as a whole), they are together. Dillon supposes the in-person meeting should’ve commenced much earlier.
Still, she shakes his hand. “Likewise, sir.”
“I’m sure you have a great many questions about the procedure, do you not?”
Indeed, Dillon does. She glances at the overwhelming amounts of equipment with eyes wide enough that their edges begin to pull and ache. One of these contraptions, she notes, has a higher volume of scientists surrounding it than all the others. They run their eager fingers along the buttons and scribble away on their clipboards, opening a gap between their bodies for a single second. That second is enough for Dillon to catch sight of a capsule-like machine that presents itself almost like a bathtub with a lid. While she cannot be certain and does not know what to expect from a time machine, this has to be it.
“Too many,” she answers Dr. Moreno, sighing. “I don’t suppose you have a full rundown prepared?”
“Of course, ma’am.” He shoots a glance toward the hurried scientists around him, snapping his fingers to gauge their attention. “Let’s begin the briefing, my friends!”
As if they’d already rehearsed this moment for her, the scientists split into groups. Several of them move to continue their preparations for the machine, while others stand in place and wait for further instructions. A large screen interface panels across the wall nearest to Dillon, similar to that of a movie theater. It is almost as if it has come out of nowhere; Dillon did not notice a screen like this prior, so thin in its build and yet, with pictures so crisp it is comparable to staring out a window. For now, while Dr. Moreno continues to give his orders and the scientists persist in setting up, the screen only displays a logo for the Center for Experimental Science, as well as a subtitle that reads: World’s First Time Travel Expedition. Shown is an image of the bathtub-like machine, confirming Dillon’s theory that it is the correct apparatus.
“Hadwin,” Dr. Moreno addresses one of the younger scientists in a high-pitched, almost over-enthusiastic tone, “off with the lights, cue the music!”
Dillon furrows her brow and to herself, mutters, “Cue the what now?”
Dr. Moreno skips over to stand proudly at the edge of the screen, making quick eye contact. “Dillon, stand by for instructions.”
At once, the lights turn off and a bold spotlight highlights Dr. Moreno’s stance, though not at an intensity in which it drowns out the light radiating from the screen behind him; it only compliments it.
Somehow less afraid due to the doctor’s excitement, Dillon permits her lips to be pulled into a smirk. “Standing by.”
Dr. Moreno begins to flick through a series of programmed images, many of them featuring the bathtub-like capsule and others featuring images of mathematical equations—the work put into the creation that Dillon can’t even begin to comprehend. So much of this project is a blind leap of faith, a plunge into the unknown, and if she doesn’t have an overwhelming fear of letting those around her down (and if she hasn’t signed the countless contracts with both JPL and her publisher), she would be out the door. Forget boredom—this is a too-far dive into her craving for adrenaline.
Regardless, there is nothing she can do about it now but pay attention and hope for the best.
“Dillon, you are tasked as a subject for an experiment that has never been done before—something that will defy the laws of time and space, something that will be of great benefit to us…and to you.” Dr. Moreno points toward the machine that has already caught Dillon’s eye several times. “My team and I have created an experimental time machine, which will take your body and your consciousness twenty years in the past. In 48 hours, you will be brought back automatically, preferentially with an experience worth writing about and research that will further support this scientific breakthrough.”
While the idea sounds even more wonderful than it did before, Dillon skeptically furrows her brow. “How exactly is this supposed to work?”
“If I explained every last program, every last equation, every last piece of technology…we’d be here for too long. Rest assured, we’ve safety-proofed and tested the machine,” he comforts, his smile persisting.
Dillon smiles. “You have my trust, doctor.”
She knows very well that if she walks out of that door and doesn’t look back to continue the experiment, she will regret it deeply. With her publisher and with Safa, they discussed ideas—even mentioned it to Dr. Moreno over the phone, who said that he was not yet sure—but the more she thinks about it, the more she wants to go through with her favorite idea.
Dillon concretely decides right then and there that a key part of the book she’s signed to write will feature her younger self—almost a memoir both of her experience with time travel and her childhood itself, if not a little more than that. Leading up to this moment, the thoughts of what she is going to write have been vague. There have been too many ideas and not enough answers to choose anything. Dillon already signed for an autobiography, but combining that with the time travel endeavor sounds like a much more welcoming idea—and it would cut down on the writing.
She wishes to explore the girl she was at the age of ten, twenty years ago, and the trials and tribulations and triumphs that led to the woman she grew into. Other than that, Dillon wants to study her younger self because there isn’t much from the year—2018—that she remembers clearly. It is a blur of laughter and tears and anger like nothing she’s ever known, the only truth being that it was a very challenging year and at that time, her name was Goose.
Whether or not Dr. Moreno will actually allow her to study her younger self remains unclear. She continues to listen attentively and trustingly to his instructions, waiting for the topic to rise.
“Now, we’ve compiled a list of instructions and rules to be certain that this all goes smoothly.” From his pocket, Dr. Moreno retrieves an electronic watch with wires poking from its edges and several different kinds of metal branded together. It is certainly modified. “First, this watch is programmed to count down from 48 hours upon the button being pressed. The moment you arrive, use it to ensure that you’re keeping track of time. We don’t wish to startle you in any way when your body and consciousness are eventually pulled from one time period to another.”
Dillon takes the watch from his hands and latches it around her wrist. She is careful not to begin the countdown too early. What would happen if she did so? Would the watch grow confused—broken? Or would it go off at the wrong time and simply become a useless piece of technology to weigh down her wrist? She is overthinking everything. There is no doubt about it.
“You’ll be given five hundred dollars of suitable cash on the off-chance that you may need to use public transportation or book a hotel room,” continues Dr. Moreno. He hands Dillon several older bills. One of them still has the face of Benjamin Franklin on it, a bill that, like many designs of bills from that era, has since been retired. She stuffs them all into her wallet along with several bills from the present time period and listens to the doctor. “As long as the items are within the machine when we ship you off, they will travel with you. But anything you collect from the past will stay there. As I was saying—”
More confused than she was before, she interrupts, “I still don’t understand how this works.”
“You need to trust me,” exhales Doctor Moreno. He wipes a hand over his wrinkled face.
Dillon nods in the most understanding fashion that she can muster. “I’m trying. I swear…I am.”
“Good.” He grins and proceeds with his briefing. “We’ve also provided you with this: a state-of-the-art, experimental Laser pointer that severs the memories of the five previous minutes from one’s brain, though studies have shown that it may cause long-term memory loss. Use it wisely, and use it sparingly. It is advised that you wait an hour between uses in order to let it recharge.”
He hands her a device that looks both like something out of a science fiction movie and an object that is equally underwhelming and, well, stupid. It’s a laser pointer, and it looks just like that—like one she has at home that Major Tom frequently plays with. Like a toy.
“And why would I need that in the first place?” Dillon wonders, though she does hope that it will fall in place with her most burning question: Whether or not she will be allowed to study her younger self, like she originally asked about to no concrete result.
Dr. Moreno parts his lips as if to speak, but hesitates for several seconds. “Good question.” Another considerate pause. “That brings me to my final rule—something that you may not, under any circumstances, break.”
Dillon swallows hard. “Wonderful. And what might that be?” Whenever she hears about a rule she must not break—whenever someone says anything along the lines of what Dr. Moreno just said—like the child she is at heart, she is compelled to break it.
“Since the equipment is experimental and our research, knowledge, and understanding of the topic at hand is limited, it is crucial that you must not interact with anyone who could potentially recognize you, including yourself,” he explains thoroughly.
Does this mean that she cannot follow through with the idea whatsoever?
“While you’ve already asked about this, I am aware that one of your objectives is to be given the chance to study your ten-year-old self, and that is fine. That is precisely why we’ve given you the pointer in the first place. But…”
“It’s okay,” she lets out a breath along with the words, answering honestly. “I don’t plan to communicate with myself—God, that sounds so strange to say. Communicate with me?”
Dr. Moreno nods in agreement. “It is, Ms. Hershkop,” he says and his voice turns serious. “Although, I know you wouldn’t dare. Please stay out of trouble.”
“Oh, I will,” Dillon replies as the two of them head over to the cluster of scientists surrounding the time machine. They separate so that she can stand over it and peer into its daunting depths.
“Any last concerns?” Dr. Moreno inquires.
A million, Dillon thinks, but instead shakes her head. “No, I don’t think so.”
Peering down into the machine, she takes note of a few things. The first is that it is entirely sealed and without anything that appears to make it work the way it does; she understands so much and nothing at all. The second thing she notices is that the machine is filled with warm, lapping water.
“This looks a lot like a meditation chamber. You know that, right?” she remarks. “How can I be certain the entire trip isn’t a hallucination? Are you going to feed me psychedelics?”
Dr. Moreno chuckles, perhaps slightly annoyed at her frequent skepticism. “Observant, aren’t you? But no—this machine is far greater than that. Utilizing several different energy and theoretical physics, it will do exactly as we have explained.” He presses a button and the machine emits a low rumble. “And no, Ms. Hershkop, you will not receive any hallucinatory drugs.”
“Okay.” Dillon nods quickly. “Do I have your word?”
“You do,” he promises once more. “Anyway, as instructed, please lie down inside the machine and submerge yourself in the water. Give us a thumbs-up once you are ready and we will shut the lid and begin the procedure.”
Dillon places her hands on the edge of the machine. “Is now a good time to let you know that I’m severely claustrophobic and can’t swim?” she stammers, both apprehensive and equally sarcastic.
Dr. Moreno simply shakes his head.
Dillon stumbles over to the machine and hauls herself into it. Minimal drops of water overflow and escape the machine as she submerges herself, the tip of her nose the last to be covered. The water is warm and comforting, but as the capacity in her lungs begins to lessen and her vision goes black from the overwhelming amount of water, that tranquility turns into terror.
At first, she thrashes her arms and legs and struggles to get up. The longer she does this, the more tired she grows, and finally, she gives in. She positions her fingers into a thumbs-up and allows Dr. Moreno to shut the lid.
She hears a muffled voice. It belongs to Dr. Moreno. “May your travels be most fruitful, Ms. Hershkop.” But maybe that’s only her imagination attempting to comfort her from whatever is to come.
It is only for a second longer than Dillon is suffocated by the water. Then, everything is gone—her ability to breathe, the feel of the liquid’s warmth licking at her body, even the pounding of her heart and the panic she so dearly feels. The blackness over her vision is gone too, and what it soon is replaced with is a sight equally magical: her memories moving in a reversed order.
Almost cliché in its doing, Dillon is brought backward through time—quite literally. The images that flutter on a carousel all around her begin with her conversation with Daniel that morning, working backward to each memorable day over the last few months—interviews, moments with her family, movie premieres—until Dillon finds herself at a point where she is young again. The moment she met Daniel reverses itself, then her college years fly by. High school is next, then middle school, and finally, elementary school. Fourth grade, to be exact. It’s April, the same time of the year as when Dillon stepped into the machine—only it isn’t 2038.