Do you live with regret? Do you struggle to understand why you are how you are and what choices led you to be the way you are? Those of us haunted by the past may have a desire to go back and revisit our decisions; an opportunity perhaps to change our fate, or that of those around us. Or perhaps a chance to jump ahead, to see where our choices will lead us. For Harvey Belfort that exact opportunity was granted. On Tuesday December 23, 2014 he invented a time machine. Having boldly climbed in and travelled one day into the future, he found himself horrified by what he saw. The world had become an unfamiliar catastrophe, and he yearned for answers as to why things had become the way they were. He had then travelled back to the past of Monday December 22, 2014 in search of answers as to how things ever got so bad. It turned out the past was as alien and horrendous as the future. It seemed like things never changed. The past and the future were a mutually reinforcing cycle, a carousel of repetitive events; one with no escape. Harvey wanted off this carousel. And so he had been left with no other choice. He returned in defeat to what had always been his least favourite time: the present.
The Present – 23 December 2014, Tuesday
Harvey stood in the machine, hearing the now predictable clunk. The thick smoke once again permeated the air. He waved it away and emerged into the lab to see – nothing.
Phil and Gary, his lab assistants, were absent. Looking to the ground he noticed it was pristine; there were no shards of broken glass. Harvey looked at a clock on the wall: 7.30am.
Damn, he thought, they sent him back too early. Harvey wouldn’t even be arriving for work, on a normal day, for another hour. He sighed heavily.
Harvey stared absently at the time machine. All his life he had hated the imprisonment of the present. He was a slave to circumstance, held in bondage by the choices of the past and blinded to the possibilities of the future. Now here he was, once more in the present, with nothing to do and no understanding of why the past and future were the way they were.
He broke out of his daze and wondered about his mother; not the raggedly aged mother of the tomorrow or the sexy minx of yesterday, but his real mother – the mother of today. He felt a sudden urge to see her. He made his way out of the lab.
On his way out of the building he passed Janette the receptionist. He gave a polite greeting but she didn’t respond; she looked furious about something.
As he exited the building he was about to head to his apartment before noticing the same street vendor, wearing a greasy yellow shirt. Harvey hesitated and then wandered over to the stand, picking up a paper.
Cease-Fire Announced in Gaza read the headline.
“Think this one’ll last?” The vendor asked.
“I suppose we’ll see,” Harvey replied with a knowing sigh, “do you think it will?”
“Sell the papers, buddy – I know.” Harvey finished. The vendor looked a little startled.
Turning to the second page he saw more headlines. Reports of New Teenage Trend May Have Been Exaggerated, and Political Division in America May Be on the Decline.
Harvey sighed once more and put the paper down, walking away from the vendor. He saw a bus approaching and turned away, starting once more to walk to his home before realising that today his bus pass was indeed valid. The present had its perks after all. He hailed it and climbed aboard, staring out the window the whole way.
As he disembarked he came to the familiar facade of his building. The doorman looked at him as he walked past. Harvey turned back around to face him. “Do you ever do your fucking job?” Harvey snapped.
“Oh, howdy Mr. B,” replied the doorman, “forget something did you?”
“Or are you planning that Christmas present for your mom?” The doorman asked with a wink.
Harvey simply walked away, confused and irritated.
In his apartment, Harvey found his mother laying on her bed, just as he remembered her. She struggled to lean over and see him; she was getting worse and it would only be a matter of time before he couldn’t take care of her anymore.
“Harvey?” She managed to croak out. “What’s wrong, did you forget something?”
Harvey pulled a chair over and slumped down into it next to his mother, holding her hand.
“I don’t understand, Mom,” he said with a defeated frustration, “I went on a journey. I wanted to see how things would be. I didn’t like what I saw, so I went back and tried to understand but it was all just the same.”
Harvey’s mother took a deep breath and looked empathetically into her son’s eyes.
“Son, your whole life, you have never been happy. You never learned to live in the moment.”
“But I hate the present. I just wanted to know why I feel so unhappy here. I wanted to see what I had to look forward to.”
“How far is far enough?” His mother wheezed. “Don’t you understand, my boy – it doesn’t matter whether you go back or forward, days or years.”
Harvey wore a look of dismay and confusion.
“You aren’t a prisoner here, you’ve got it all backwards. There is where you are trapped. The only way you can change anything is here and now. Otherwise tomorrow will be the same and when you look back on the day before you’ll feel no solace. You have to change now, Harvey.”
Harvey leaned back with a frown. Perhaps his old lady was right. What point was there in jumping forward and backward in history if you never took the time to make it?
Harvey, for once, took a deep breath rather than releasing a large sigh. He had a lot of thinking to do. He looked at a clock on his mother’s wall: 8:02am. He should be making his way to work. Harvey kissed his mother on the forehead and left. He had a lot of thinking to do indeed.
The Present – Half an Hour Later – 23 December 2014, Tuesday
Harvey entered the Fermilab offices. Janette was angrily stabbing a notebook with a broken pencil. As he made his way towards the lab, he heard a soft weeping coming from the lunchroom. He peered in to see his supervisor Dave, crying and obsessively cleaning his coffee cup with a dirty rag.
“That bitch,” Dave muttered through tears, “she’s just a receptionist, she’ll never be anything.”
“Are you okay, Dave?” Harvey asked.
Dave suddenly sat up, regaining his composure and wiping the tears from his eyes.
“Me? Yes, of course, Harvey. I’m totally fine.”
“Okay…” Harvey walked away.
“Stupid Harvey Belfort,” Dave resumed crying and muttering as he polished his mug, “he’ll never make anything of himself either.”
Harvey entered his laboratory to see Phil, Gary and – Harvey. The three all looked at Harvey as he entered the room, a look of shock washing over all of their faces. Gary dropped a beaker.
“For fuck’s sake, Gary!” Harvey, Harvey and Phil all said in unison.
“I was in shock,” Gary muttered defensively.
Harvey noticed that the second Harvey had his hand on the can of energy drink taped to the time machine.
“How is this possible?” The second Harvey asked.
“I – you invented time travel,” the first Harvey replied.
“I did?” second Harvey excitedly asked. “I succeeded – I’m no longer stuck here?”
“Well…” the first Harvey said, “I think I need a moment with you.”
The second Harvey frowned. “But if I’m close, there’s no time to lose – you have to tell me how to make this damned thing work!”
The first Harvey wandered over and put his hand firmly on second Harvey’s shoulder.
“Trust me, we need to talk,” he said as he ushered the other Harvey out of the lab, “don’t worry, we have all the time in the world.”
The Harveys made their way out of the lab and crossed the street to a quaint little park. They sat down on a bench together, the sun beaming through the trees in the reasonably temperate weather of that day.
“Harvey,” the first Harvey started, “you need to stop.”
“Stop what?” The second Harvey asked, “I don’t understand…”
The first Harvey leaned back and looked at the world around him. Cars flew by, pedestrians strolled down the sidewalk, birds could be heard chirping.
“Why do you want to travel through time?”
“You should know,” the second Harvey responded, “I hate it here. I’m trapped. I want to know what lies ahead; or at least how I got here.”
“Do you ever wonder why the future would be different?”
The second Harvey frowned. “I – well… I guess – it just would be. It’s the future.”
“And what makes the future?”
“Well… the past, I suppose.”
“And what makes the past?”
The second Harvey paused. He had honestly never thought to consider it. The future was possibility, the past was the path that had led there. It had seemed simple enough, and yet he now found himself at a loss to explain how the two connected.
“Don’t you see?” The first Harvey continued, “It’s the present that makes the past and forges the future.”
“But things are always the same in the present,” the second Harvey replied, “I want to see how things turn out.”
The first Harvey sighed. “What’s in your pocket right now?”
The second Harvey was confused. “Um, keys, my wallet, a bus pass.”
“That’s right. A daily bus pass. Did you stop to think about what would happen to that daily bus pass if you jumped ahead to tomorrow?”
The second Harvey froze.
“Listen to me, Harvey,” the first Harvey said firmly, “the present exists for a reason. It’s a chance to reflect on the past, to change our behaviour and create the path of the future. If you try to cheat and just jump around, you will never be able to actually change anything. Cycles will repeat, the world will drift away from you and become something you don’t recognise in the future, and the past will be a horrific specter of what once was, no less alien to you. You can’t cheat fate – you have to make it. You have to act now. You have to live now.”
“I guess…” the second Harvey said with audible disappointment.
“You need to understand this, Harvey,” continued the first Harvey, “the present is not your prison. You’re trapped by the idea of the past and the future. You’re so obsessed by what may come and what has been that you don’t have the time to make what is. And no time machine can give you that.”
The second Harvey sighed as he surveyed the world around him. Birds were heard chirping, cars zoomed along the road, strangers bustled along the sidewalk. He had never taken the time to sit in the moment before.
“The world will go on, one way or another, Harvey,” the first Harvey said, “but the things that are important to you – your job, your mother, who you are – you make those things. You make those futures right now.”
“I see what you are saying,” the second Harvey responded with a sense of realisation. “I’ve never listened to the birds before, you know that?”
“I know,” the first Harvey replied.
“I have to destroy the machine, then.”
The second Harvey bit his lip and stared intently for a moment. “And so I will.”
“Thank you,” the first Harvey replied.
“What about you?” the second Harvey asked, “What will become of you?”
“I suppose I am redundant now. I think we know what has to become of me.”
“But having two of us could have its advantages – we could take proper care of our mother instead of shipping her off to a home or something. And the ladies…” the second Harvey mused.
“Harvey, neither of us have had a lady in twenty-six years. Double zero is still zero. And as for our mother, like I said, you can’t cheat fate. These are decisions people have to make every day by themselves in the present. We know what I must do.”
The second Harvey paused sadly. “I know. It was just nice to meet someone who really understands me for once.”
“Maybe,” the first Harvey replied, “maybe in the future you will. Now is the time to start looking,” he said with a wink.
The Harveys stood up and embraced each other in a long deep hug.
“Thank you,” the second Harvey said, “thank you for everything.”
The first Harvey simply patted him on the back, and with a smile walked over to the busy street. He saw a car rapidly speeding down. He turned to the second Harvey.
“Don’t forget. The future starts now. You make it!” He yelled.
“I won’t forget!” The second Harvey yelled back.
“Go live,” the first Harvey said. He stepped out onto the road, into the path of the car.
The car impacted and smashed into first Harvey, smashing the windshield, decapitating him and splashing his guts all over the street in front of him.
At the same time, second Harvey’s head suddenly flew off, as his guts sprayed all park, painting the bench a deep red and plastering his intestines onto the grass.
A passerby who was wandering down the street towards the Apple store paused in astonishment to gaze at the scene. He pulled out his phone to take a photo of the gore.
The phone stalled and displayed a message: iOS 7.1 is required for this feature.
“God dammit,” the stranger muttered, “I can’t wait till tomorrow.”