"No Regrets" by Becky Reynolds
Several months ago I had a dream of you.
I dreamt I went out one Saturday night and ran into you at an event. We don’t talk that much really, while we’re in the same circles we rarely have a reason to communicate. Trying to be social I moved towards you and struck up a conversation. You were a little surprised by my approach but were friendly to me nonetheless. We both agreed that as having someone to provide idle banter at such things is better than being alone.
We end up talking for hours, walking about long after the event ended and when we finally went our separate ways we both had a profound respect for the other. I went home feeling glad that I had left my comfort zone and made a friend in the process.
The next morning when I checked my phone, Facebook practically exploded. You were on the news; they posted that a drunk driver merged onto the highway without looking and caused a traffic accident. There was only one fatality: you. Post after post of friends mourning your passing inundated me and left me feeling terrible. I felt as if it were my fault you were killed; if I didn’t talk to you, you would have grown bored and left sooner. The what-ifs haunted me, as if it were your own ghost.
By the afternoon I was drunk and miserable, unsure if I was even going to try and make it to work the next day. As I lay there on the couch trying to find the number for my boss in my phone, there was a knock at my door. However, when I opened the door to answer it the hallway was empty.
I turned to discover a slender, well-dressed man in gray already inside my apartment… casually sitting on my couch as if he had been there the whole time. He smiles in a way that makes me uncomfortable yet I’m surprisingly calm about the whole ordeal.
“Dreadful news this morning” He greets me cordially as he uncrosses his legs and pats the couch as if encouraging me to sit by him. I squint at him and tilt my head, unsure how to process the situation. We stare each down for a moment till he clicks his teeth with his tongue and instead readjusts himself as if to watch the long-abandoned television.
”Wasn’t that a friend of yours?” The tone in his voice becomes so icy you could almost see his breath.
While still staring at his reflection in the blank TV screen he pats the couch again, slower. As if this time it’s not a request. Reluctantly I seat myself onto the couch and position myself as far away from him as possible. He notices my obvious discomfort and chuckles.
“I’m here,” he continues while never turning his head to look at me directly. “to offer you a resolution."
"You see, I can fix this for you…at a cost. I can send you back: instead of going out you will stay at home and go to bed early. You will not have talked to your friend and, while they’ll never get to know you better, they will return home safely to continue on with their life”.
He senses that he’s got my full attention and before I can react he snatches my hands and pulls to force me to face him. His face is so close to mine we’re almost touching. He smiles at my frozen confusion and leans toward my ear.
“This.” He whispers to me is a low voice, “This is, however, a difficult endeavor though as the further back you go the more it’s going to cost you.”
I realize that my in my panic I’ve been holding my breath the entire time. As I gasp for air I can feel him chuckle again.
“What exactly is the cost?’ I whisper back suspiciously.
He pushes me back to our face to face position as if we’re no longer exchanging secrets, but instead discussing business.
“Currently?” Another grin too large and toothy for his petite frame. “A year and a day of your own life. However the longer you wait the more time I’ll need.” He pauses to study my reaction. ”If it’s any consolation, the time is taken off at the end of your life and those last year’s aren’t that good anyway; believe me.”
I think back to our talks last night and to you. You have people you care about, people who obviously miss you, and so much you still planned to experience and enjoy. I…don’t. I have nothing of the sort. I regret that you won’t know me anymore, but in the end it doesn’t matter. Nothing does anymore. I don’t even hesitate.
He raises an eyebrow in what appears to be surprise, but his smirk indicates he knew what my answer was going to be all along. He pats my hands reassuringly and releases them.
“Let me get that set up for you then. This will only take a moment, but for it to work you will need to be asleep. Why don’t you go ahead and get ready for bed?” He touches my cheek with icy fingertips and fingernails that are just a little too long brush against my skin. For the first time since he’s been there I suddenly feel naked and vulnerable, but I do as I’m told.
I wake up to Sunday morning. Again.
Disoriented and groggy I check my phone like I always do to discover that last night’s event was a hit. But I can recall nothing of it anymore. The books and bottles by my bed confirm I was home all night long. As I start piecing together what I remember before it all slips away I panic and quickly check your profile. Everything is normal. I sigh with relief. It was a dream.
I get up to start my day feeling refreshed, albeit bittersweet. I never talked to you; I only dreamt that I did. That personification of you doesn’t exist; it’s what my brain thinks you would be like. You don’t know me, and as far as I know I don’t even really exist to you. It seemed rather clever for a dream; I can’t help but give my subconscious a morbid credit. I’ve not traveled back in time; I’m just the antisocial loser who stays at home drinking instead of going out.
On the other hand, it means I’ve not made that bargain… and therefore I’ve lost nothing.
As I’m brushing my teeth I close the medicine cabinet. The sunlight hits the mirror and reflects a blinding flash into my face. As I slam my eyes shut for a moment I hear a grinning voice that’s familiar but not my own. The whisper is so close to my ear I almost thought it was inside my head
“And so,” he asks, “how many times do you suppose you’ve made this agreement with me before?”