The first time I saw my future self, he had his back turned to me, and was headed out the main door to the lab. something about his walk gave me pause. Something familiar.
The second time I saw him, he was leaning against the vending machine as I ate lunch in the commons area. I almost choked. He looked a lot like me in features and expression, but he was muscular, his skin was glowing with health, and he had a beard.
Due to the nature of our work, I knew I ought to report these hallucinations to my supervisor. But I didn’t.
The third time was the first time he spoke, or seemed to acknowledge my presence at all. “You’re gonna be late, kid,” he said, standing over my bed. I froze, not taking my eyes off him.
“I really am having hallucinations,” I said.
“I guess that’s one way of looking at it,” he said. His clothes were odd, like spandex but with openings cut at the arms and thighs. I wondered if it was some kind of uniform. “But I would call it more of a vision.”
I looked at the clock. He wasn’t wrong, I had to get to work.
I lived in the lab, and was kept under high security. My work was secret from the public, other governments, and most of our own government. It was critical to avoid compromising it, so I knew I had to talk to my supervisor.
“What are you seeing him for?” my future self asked.
I was almost to the door. “To tell him about you.”
“You think he’ll believe you?”
He shrugged. “Your party.”
He laughed. “Oops! I keep forgetting the old phrases. I meant, your funeral. I have been living without death for so long, I just forget how present it used to be.”
I turned back to him. His eyes were bright, and a smile fought to wash over his face.
“Remember, I’m your future self,” he said. “You believe in Jesus, right? Jesus came back, and he raised your body from the dead. So here I am.”
Clearly my addled brain was getting sicker and sicker.
I didn’t tell anyone about the visions after that, but he still kept appearing to me. I asked him once if it was the work that was causing me to see him. He shrugged. “I don’t know. What exactly are you working on? Our here in the middle of nowhere?”
I didn’t answer, knowing he wouldn’t like it.
Sometimes he didn’t talk to me, just watched while I worked. Other times he made jokes, some of which didn’t make any sense. He grew tired of my blank expressions, and laughingly said, “I guess when you live with a bunch of people you love, all your jokes are inside jokes!”
At one point during work, I injured my knee. I was laid up for a few days, and he spent a lot of time sitting in my room. I asked him once about what the future was like, just to distract myself from the boredom.
“Better than you can imagine,” he said, sincerity dripping off of him. He pointed to my knee. “That doesn’t happen. We are always healthy and happy. “
“I’m glad,” I said.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with all this, though.” he waved his hairy hand at the surrounding lab, and I regarded my own hand. I could tell it was the same. My brain knew what my own hand looked like, at least.
“You mean the work will fail?” I asked.
“I mean it doesn’t matter,” he said. “Once the King comes back, this lab won’t be necessary.”
“And when is that?”
He smiled, “You know I can’t tell you that.”
“Because you don’t know,” I said. “You are just a figment of my imagination,. A hallucination created by the work.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Maybe. But you know I’m the realest thing in this whole lab.”
Things were ramping up, and I was working a lot of hours, trying to stay awake through coffee consumption. He stood beside me at the counter one morning, laughing and telling me about a game that he and his friends supposedly play. It sounded lie it involved flying machines, which confused me. I didn’t say anything, though, because there were other people in the room.
He paused, and crossed his rippling arms across his chest, looking at the rule sheets posted on the cupboards.
“Rules! he said, smiling. “I had forgotten about rules! We don’t have them anymore.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“No one is in danger, and no one wants to hurt anyone else, even if they could,” he said.
I just shrugged.
My future self was right about one thing. One day, the work failed. The subjects broke containment, and it was chaos in the lab. I had all been taught over and over what to do in the event of a critical failure, but it all happened so fast that I was locked in a storage closet before I knew it, and everything else was lost.
“So what happens now?” he said over the distant alarms. He was sitting in the closet, his knees drawn up close to his chest.
“Nothing,” I said. “Is this how I die?”
“Sitting in a closet?” he rubbed his beard. “Not sure. I barely remember dying. Lots of good things have happened since then.”
I shivered, hearing distant screams.
“Okay.” He stood up. ‘Let’s get you out of this mess and back up to the surface.”
“How are we going to do that?” I asked.
“Follow my lead.” He gestured towards the door.
I frowned. “You are in my head. You can’t do anything.”
He cocked his head, as though unused to people telling him he couldn’t do things. “You, uh, got a better plan? I mean, I play maze dodge ball all the time, and I always find it better to run out and move around than to hole up in a corner someplace.”
“This isn’t a game,” I said. “I could die!”
“I understand, sort of. Intellectually I do. but boy, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen anybody die. And hey, even if you do, you know you’re just going to turn into me when He comes back, right?” He spread his hands. “It will at least give you a chance.”
My future self crept along the corridors, motioning me to follow and sometimes holding his hand for me to wait. I followed his instructions, figuring that my chances were just as low if I ignored him.
We neared the elevator, and I couldn’t believe that we had made it so far. Then he waved at me, and I ducked behind a shelf. Something ran through the intersection ahead. I heard a hissing sound.
He was silent for a moment, then waved me forward. I ran with him into the elevator.
It sent us up, and I was surprised when it obeyed. No damage to the shaft, then. But also no one else from this floor had reached it.
“I remember someone saying these things used to play music,” said my future self.
“What?” I couldn’t believe that was what he was thinking of.
“Music is everywhere where I live,” he said. “We use it when we play, when we work, when we eat. We love music.”
The elevator stopped, and the door opened. My mouth opened wide as I screamed in terror of what I saw. It was my height, hunched over, and covered in what looked like small blue spines. It screeched and reached for me, but my future self delivered a powerful kick.
The thing slid away, and the doors slid shut. “Up one more level,” he said calmly, punching in the number.
I realized that my hallucinations were getting worse, since he had interacted with the physical world. Containment breaking was no doubt responsible for that. I rubbed my eyes furiously.
The door opened, and we stepped out into the office level. He led me through the cubicles, and soon we had reached the stairs leading to the parking garage.
It was empty, and we were soon climbing into a truck. I hit the accelerator, and didn’t let up until the compound was far behind us up the mountainside.
The sun was out, and I realized that I hadn’t seen it in a long time. I said as much, and he laughed.
“I see it almost every day,” he said. “It rains sometimes, but then we light all our lanterns. It really is a beautiful city, you should see it sometime.”
He patted my shoulder. “You will. Stay the course. Don’t lose hope.”
He smiled, and shifted in his seat. “About time for me to be going. I’ll see you after.”
And he was gone.
They picked me up in the truck before long, and I cooperated. Due to my hallucinations, though, I wasn’t much use to them. They got rid of me, and I never went back.
I don’t know if the program was stopped. I hope so. What I do know is that I still think about my future self sometimes, smiling and waving his muscular arms around. Talking about how much everyone will love me, and how much I will love everyone.
I think it’s true.