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Justin Campbell Justin Campbell
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Is it Like Today? - Chapter 1

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Under the Double Star - Chapter One


       It was a dreary grey afternoon as Shirley Marie Andrews let herself into the apartment and took off her raincoat. It was early November, 2033, and her days were boring and currently empty; she was in between jobs at the moment, having finished her final run of the play The Final Mile at the Great Canadian Theatre Company, and while she had signed up for a medium-budget film tentatively titled The Backstory, that would not begin shooting until February.

       She had led a colorful life since being born forty-one years ago, having travelled extensively in her youth and taking a lot of risks, performing in theatres across the country as well as in Europe. Most of those journeys were only bits of memory to her, but with the help of Facebook and portable mini-drives with holographic displays, those times were almost as real to her as the journeys themselves.

       She left her tote bag in the living room and went into the kitchen to put some tea on. As she did so, her multi-task electronic device, an iDo, beeped in her pocket. Pulling it out, she found a notification on the screen.


       She smiled. Derrick was the eighteen-year-old boy she used to see often when he was a child. He was Tyler’s son. She tapped the screen lightly with her index finger to open the message.

       Hey Shirley! How’s it going? I was just wondering, did you go to the same high school as me? I saw an app on Facebook that said you did.
Hope things are well!

       Shirley thought about that. It was quite unlikely since Derrick lived out west, and she had to think back. Those days had felt short and fast to her. There had been a lot of travelling. She’d spent a lot of time with Shawn and Alanna, and she remembered Brian, too.

       There was a ding, and the tea was ready. Sitting down at the table in her kitchen with the warm mug, her mind wandered back to the days of her youth…

       She had graduated from Fisher Glen Secondary School way back in 2010…she’d had a lot of friends in high school, but most of them had moved on after that. Alanna had graduated with her, and she had decided to pursue theatre studies at Waterloo University at the time. Alanna, on the other hand, had decided to do music at McGill in Montreal. They had had really different career ideas back then, and they still did now, but regardless of the time passed, her and Alanna still had weekly dinners with each other, and their friendship was as warm as it had always been. Most friendships usually became distant after all that time, especially with the overwhelming transparency and ease of Internet friendships and social sites, but theirs had prevailed.

       Thinking back twenty-three years, she could remember Alanna, Tiffany, Ria, and Matthew, her boyfriend at the time. They’d only lasted one year past graduation, as her travels had put a fatal strain on the relationship. She also remembered, to a much lesser extent, Jason. He’d been an odd character she only knew because they’d taken a civics class together back in the eleventh grade. He used to stare at her sometimes, though she could tell it wasn’t so much of a creepy one as much as it was a captivated, friendly one. They’d even, with Alanna, gone to Donald’s Foods once, but it was only once; Alanna and Jason’s friendship seemed to have issues based on wrong assumptions on Jason’s part afterwards, which put a dampener on any small friendship they maintained.

       When she arrived at Waterloo, she answered an ad for a roommate in a nearby building and ended up sharing a unit with a very mild-mannered guy named Shawn Norman, who used to talk about working at Donald’s Foods a lot. In fact she’d seen him a couple of times there when she ate at the Merivale location now and then. He had been kind of a quirky guy…he was taking biomed and he’d talk about things like a fourth dimension and the many varieties of tea leaves he apparently retrieved from such a place, but she’d always passed those tales off as eccentric, albeit interesting, accounts. Shawn had been a great storyteller, and a great person to travel with in their later years at the university. Only a month after living with him, he’d accepted Brian to move in with them, a grinning nursing student who, despite his positive expressions, was desperate for a room. Sipping her warm tea, the leaves floating on the surface reminded her of Shawn’s tales and Brian’s tendency to give the thumbs up gesture, and she giggled. Those had been good days.
       Shirley was divorced and single, so she had her apartment to herself. It sometimes seemed funny to her that she ended up as a middle-aged bachelor, but things went as they did, and she could not change that – even if she rented or bought a time-machine, as she wouldn’t bother changing anything anyway. You couldn’t. It had been one of the laws of time-travel that you couldn’t create paradoxes or noticeable changes in the time-line. She had seen all the keynotes by The Johns – two Ottawa-based men named John who were considered the fathers of time-travel – on YouTube.

       She spent her evening cleaning up the apartment and doing her laundry, which wasn’t much. Her living quarters had never been very cluttered. She usually spent most nights watching the news on the television projected by her iDo and sitting at the computer, the one device she had separate from the iDo. Most people lived almost entirely off the gadget, but she preferred to use the old-fashioned workstation and desk. It was cold and dreary outside, so she instructed the place’s lights to turn on bright as well as the heating unit to warm the rooms up. As rain started to patter about outside, she cooked herself dinner – a simple spaghetti dish – and then went on the computer.

       When she got on Facebook, she found herself alerted with seven notifications of messages, likes, and status writes on her wall. That was usual – she still remained close to a small group of friends from university and high school, and they were always interested in how the actor that she was was doing – and ignored those to write back to Derrick. She knew that he currently lived out in Vancouver with his mother, so they hadn’t gone to the same high school. But she decided to tell him about where she went anyways.

       Hey D! How is life going out there? Rain a lot? To answer your question, I went to Fisher Glen Secondary. I never lived in Vancouver. I grew up in Ottawa with my parents. My dad worked at a place called Kresge’s Goods – do you remember that place? Actually, I think that was before your time. They’ve been out of business for many years now…anyway, I actually only got to know your dad through your third cousin Brian when he was roommates with me in university. Shawn lived with us as well, are you still in touch with him? We used to travel a lot, but I was never part of that social group in the beginning, we didn’t know each other prior to university. I did know of Shawn before, though, but only at Donald’s Foods as a waiter. How are things at school with you?

       She finished the message there, sent it, then found Alanna online and decided to make the week’s dinner arrangements with her.

      Derrick Melton, aged eighteen, sat in his messy bedroom at the south side of the townhouse he and his mother occupied, playing a reality life game on his computer. He spent a lot of time on it in the evenings, either playing the game or listening to music.

       He was a quiet boy who lived with his mother, Iris, in Coquitlam, British Columbia. They had moved there when he was twelve. Derrick only saw his father three times a year – once on his birthday, once during the holidays, and for one week during the summer. He loved his dad and wished he could see him more often, but things being what they were, that wasn’t possible. He had just started his first year at Simon Fraser University, for anthropology, and while he was enjoying his courses, he had, like always, difficulty making friends.

       He spent a lot of time on Facebook as well as his computer games and music, and had sporadic contact with Shawn, Jason, and Shirley – friends of his father who had been childhood role models and parental figures to him – and his paternal grandparents, Dominick and Leah. He also e-mailed his third cousin, Brian, every two weeks. All of them lived back east in Ottawa. His closest relatives was his grandmother, Miranda, in Calgary; his grandfatherm Glenn, had died four years prior.

       Derrick did have a girlfriend named Penny – he’d been with her since the age of fifteen, everyone always scored at a young age these days – and he saw her almost every day. She never understood his interests in music though, as he liked really old stuff from the 1990s when his father was born. He really liked her, though, and they were already well into a physical relationship (these days kids as young as eight had become extremely sexualized). She was busy working that night, though, so he listened to a really old band called World Party and monitored his Facebook on one screen, his game on the other. Halfway through a song and his game, the Facebook screen alerted him of a new message from Shirley. She was responding to his question about where she’d gone to high school. He opened it up and read it.

       When he finished, he was filled with surprise – for one thing, the app was wrong – and for another, Shirley was a lot more on the fringe of things than he thought she’d been, yet she’d been around quite a bit when he was younger. Brian had been the tie to this, not Tyler, his father.

       A thought suddenly occurred to him, and he ran to his mother’s room to check if it was viable.

       “Mom?” Iris was watching TV on her iDo while under the covers.


       “We’re still going to Ottawa for Christmas, right?”

       “Yeah, we are.” She was distracted by the giant image projected across the white viewing wall.

       “Are you sure? What about Brian and Shirley?”

       “What about them?”

       “Well, did you really know them?”

       “Huh? Why are you asking me about this now? You choose the worst times to want to talk to me. I’m not interested in talking about them.”

       “Okay.” He went back to his room. An old memory came to him, one of Brian talking to him in the back of a car while Jason drove; he’d forgotten who was in the front seat riding shotgun, maybe a John, or his father; all that counted to Derrick was Brian’s enthusiastic talk to him as he pointed out the various street signs that went by. Derrick had only been five at the time, and Brian had been as fun and engaging as ever.

       “Did you see the red one? That was a stop sign!” He’d said in a bright voice.

       “Yeah, I did see that one! And there’s another one!”

       “Look!” Brian pointed out his window. “There goes a yield sign.”

       “What’s yield?”

       “It’s one of these!” Brian had begun to tickle him by that point. The memory of it brought Derrick to a giggle.

       He and his mother did have holiday plans to return to Ottawa, and he couldn’t wait. While he had a girlfriend here, as well as a few other close friends, it had never perfectly felt like home. His mother had made the move to help her turn over a new leaf after her separation from his father, but in the six years they’d been here, she’d hardly gotten out at all, or tried making new friends. In fact she spent almost all her time downloading and reading books on her e-reader.

       Later that night, as Derrick was going to sleep, he thought again about the interesting connections people tended to make in life. He wondered if everyone he had a connection with – Brian, Shirley, Jason, Shawn – were in some way even more connected than he thought they were.

       One final memory surfaced as he drifted to sleep: He was in an apartment with Brian and Jason in downtown Ottawa, and he was seven. Jason had one of those very rare and old music-producing devices called a record player, and he was playing an ancient Madness record that they danced to. The atmosphere had even been party-like as they all bounced around the apartment, concluding with Jason pushing Derrick around on an old swivel chair.

      Shawn Norman woke up to a bright sunny day, something he found unexpected and surprising for November. He was forty-four years old and weathered from his extensive travels, with a thinning face and a dense sprinkling of grey hair. He lived alone in Rockcliffe, an affluent east-end neighborhood of Ottawa near the river, and he worked as the Curator of the Canadian Museum of Civilization. His job often meant he had to travel to different countries to examine digging sites and ancient civilizations, but that was the joy of the position. He’d done a lot of his first traveling with his old friend Shirley, with whom he lost contact with ten years ago. The last time he’d seen her was in a poster for a major film – not in picture but in the bottom credits as a supporting character – and while he was happy for her success, he had too much of a busy life to go reconnecting with other people who were probably just as busy.

       The next couple of months was the exception for him, as he’d just returned from an exhaustive tour and business in central Africa, and he was still getting used to being back in the dreary, wet, cold atmosphere that was Ottawa at this time of year.

       Today, Shawn’s plans included starting with freshly brewed Genmaicha tea, then teleporting to a café to meet up with Jason, an old friend of his who worked in a department of the Federal Government, he couldn’t remember which, and who also primarily wrote researched interest books and novels. It wasn’t strictly a social affair – most of it was – but the business included the paperwork involved in commissioning Jason to take aerial photos of the museum and surrounding grounds. Aerial photography had been a burning passion of his since his youth, and he always found opportunities to fly up in a plane to take photos.

       When he solidified outside the corner of the restaurant, Jason was already waiting there for him in the sunlight, precisely on time. He still wore glasses but had no beard like he did at the age of twenty-one. His skin was mildly pockmarked with the occasional acne scar, and minor age lines, but other than that and the greying hair, he was still easily recognizable. Since his youth he’d bulked up a little, still short, but with an acquired flabbiness. They grinned, shook hands, and let each other into the building.

       “How was Africa?” Jason, his voice hardly any different than it had been two decades ago, asked.

       “It was good. Very hot out. But we uncovered the remains just the same, and they’re en route to the museum as we speak, so to say. You’re looking well.”

       Jason chuckled. “I’m better than I thought I’d look at this age. At least I have no insecurities; my father was always constantly dying his hair black around this time.”

       Shawn laughed. “Yeah, well…”

       “He’s still doing it now.”

       “What?” He looked surprised. “He’s still dying – “

       “I’m kidding,” Jason grinned.

       “Oh. Haha. Well, how’s Daisy?” He was referring to Jason’s wife.

       “Great. She’s still as beautiful as ever, and the kids are still growing. They surprise me every day.”

       “I remember you two together when you were courting, I wish I’d been around more, I was always somewhere or other.”

       “Yeah, I know, and with Shirley, for one thing.”

       Shawn smiled. “Yes, with Shirley. But I haven’t really kept in contact with her for a while now. I don’t know what she’s up to.”

       “Yeah. I still wish I’d gotten more time with that girl. But I won’t get into that, that’s really old stuff, Mae’s long gone too, now I’ve got Daisy, Lily and Ian to look after.”

       “How old’s Lily again?”

       “Eleven. Ian’s eight.”

       “Ah, right…”

       “Daisy is forty-one.”

       Shawn nodded. “I think I remembered that one.”

       “Yeah, but you know how I am. So….used to teleportation yet?”

       “Getting there,” Shawn said thoughtfully. “They wanted me to try teleporting across the ocean, but I wouldn’t agree to that. So I took a super jet instead.”

       “I can understand that. I don’t really like the dissolving and the particle movement, but I know I can trust The Johns. Hell, I knew both of them.”

       “Yeah…though it was you that invented the desk, right?”

       Jason grinned sheepishly. “This’ll come up in every conversation we’ll ever have, eh? That old desk.”

       “Don’t frown upon it, I loved the forth dimension. What happened to it?”

       “I took it apart eighteen years ago. I didn’t want something like that to cause any trouble or accidents, especially if I was planning a family. I still have the components, but they’re scattered all over my basement. The kids don’t touch them. At least not yet.”

       “Oh. Are they still usable?”

       “Oh, yeah, but I’d have to put them together again. And that would take a week.”

       “Well, we should try that sometime. I kind of miss getting those tea bags for only a couple of bucks.”

       “If you aren’t busy.”

       “Not this month, no.”

       “We’ll see.” He grinned. “Just like those old times. Anyway, you have the paperwork?”

       The two men got down to business.

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