Chris clenched his eyes shut and held his fist against his lips, trying to keep the laughter from busting out of him. His body shook with the effort.
“Shh! Come on, shut up. He’s coming.”
Brady socked Chris in the arm, distracting himself from his own urge to laugh. It was a good plan. This was going to be classic.
Chris fell backwards onto his back, still chuckling. His face was red as Brady prepped the living room. He set the pillows straight, smoothed out his shirt, and sat down uprightly as the footsteps approaching the door grew louder.
“Ah, B, I don’t think I can do this,” Chris managed to utter between spasms of stifled laughs. He was shaking his head as he started to rise. Brady could hear Jimmy’s feet on the front doorstep now. There was no time to waste.
Brady glanced around the darkened room quickly, ensuring that nothing was amiss. He smiled roguishly.
Chris grew suddenly alarmed as he heard the jingling of keys at the door, and Brady mouthed urgent orders for him to get up on the couch and pull himself together. The lock clicked open. The door started to creak inward, spilling luminescence in from the porch light beyond. Chris and Brady silently argued with each other, hurrying to get into place, then suddenly they both froze into their positions on the sofa, looking towards the door.
A thin framed, wire-rimmed glasses-wearing teenager shuffled into the entryway balancing several brown paper bags filled with groceries. He turned back towards the door, not seeing Brady and Chris- who had finally succeeded in pulling it together. This was going to be too good.
As the newcomer turned the lock and shut the door, he turned back toward Brady and Chris, still not seeing them in the darkness. The tension was almost too much for the two of them to bear; only the promise of a good joke kept them in a serious disposition.
The lights flipped on. A startled yelp filled the house. The groceries fell to the floor.
“Hello, Jimmy,” Brady said in a grave, almost exasperated voice.
“Hey, Jimmy,” Chris added with a nod.
The thin teenager had backed into the wall with his arms out, but now, seeing who the intruders were, he clenched his eyes shut and softly banged his head against the wall.
“For crying out loud, guys… What in the world are you doing in my house?”
Brady saw that old, ‘I’m going to make a joke about your mom’ look in Chris’ eye, so he gave him a sharp yet invisible elbow, and Chris remembered the character he had to play.
“A necessity, I’m afraid. It’s been so long,” Brady said, sincerity in his eyes. Chris leaned forward and pensively rubbed his hands together. He was in character now.
“What the heck are you talking about, Brady? I saw you in chemistry fourth period today. And again, why did you break into my house?”
Jimmy bent over and started picking up the groceries. No eggs, from the looks of it, so Brady didn’t feel bad. Not that he would have anyway. This was going to be too good.
“Forget the nourishments, Jimmy, and have a seat. You’re… well, you’re going to want to sit down to hear this, I’m afraid.”
“Come into my house,” Jimmy started muttering, “tell me what to do with groceries I bought for my-”
“PUT THE FREAKIN’ BAGS DOWN, JIMMY!” Chris shouted, rising to his feet. Jimmy stopped dead in his tracks and slowly turned to look at his classmates. All the grumbling had gone out of him, it seemed. Brady beamed inwardly. Chris was a convincing actor when he wanted to be. He really looked like he was in a state of urgency.
“Just have a seat, Jimmy. It’s important.”
Cautiously, Jimmy stepped to an over-sized easy chair and sank into it. He held one eyebrow raised as he regarded the intruders. Chris shook his head, covering his forehead with his hand as he took a seat once again.
“You don’t have to yell…” Jimmy began.
“I know,” Chris said quieter, deliberately avoiding eye contact. “I’m sorry, it’s just- there’s just no time for screwing around. This is more important than you could ever imagine.”
“What is this all about?” Jimmy asked, craning his neck backwards, as if repulsed by the strangeness before him. Brady sighed and clasped his hands together.
“We’re from the future, Jimmy.”
Jimmy’s raised eyebrow drew up even higher. Chris nodded in agreement.
“Are you high?” Jimmy asked.
Chris scoffed and shifted in his seat.
“I wish I was. Then I could forget about all this crap. Freakin’ giant robots with their laser eyes destroying everything that was once good and beautiful. People who run around-”
“Christopher!” Brady cut him off. “We have to give him some context. It has to be shocking for him.”
“If this is you guys’ idea of a joke, I’d appreciate-”
“We’re from thirty years in the future, Jimmy, and you’re going to shut up and listen to us.” Brady stood up suddenly and ran a hand through his hair. “I’m tired, and I’ve travelled a long way and a long time to get here. We knew going in that it was a long shot and that you probably wouldn’t believe us, but we had to try. We have to try. For humanity’s sake. We remembered all of those books and comics on time travel you used to read, so we thought maybe you’d realize that this is for real.”
Jimmy had sunk lower into the large chair now, his legs extended too far in front of him and a disgusted, confused look on his face.
“It’s just for fun.”
“Time travel is not fun,” Chris said gravely, looking straight at Jimmy with wide eyes.
“It isn’t,” Brady agreed, “but you have to believe us, because the future of mankind depends on you.”
It was quiet, then. Brady and Chris looked to Jimmy with imploring eyes. Only the tic-tic-tic of the mantle clock made any sound.
Jimmy appeared to debate with himself.
“Why should I believe you?” he finally said softly.
“Jimmy, in twenty-five years you are going to have a breakthrough. See, you work for the company that Christopher and I own, and your research into biomechanical artificial intelligence fields got just a little too good. We saw a business opportunity and started building robots to help people-”
“Model C-7 fifteens,” Chris added.
“Yeah, C-7 fifteens,” Brady agreed. “Everybody bought one. It was like having your own little personal assistant who didn’t get tired, didn’t need to eat. It was great. But then,” Brady’s eyes narrowed and he gesticulated wildly with his hands, “they started getting self-aware. We built them too dang smart…”
“Ok, stop, guys,” Jimmy said, shaking his head. His head was nearly level with his torso now, the way he was slouching. “That’s the plot to Terminator. Or I Robot or something.”
Chris’ jaw steeled and he frowned.
“That’s what we call one ironic piece of-”
“Oh, very clever!” Brady declared loudly, throwing his hands in the air. He looked angry. “You think you’re the first one to notice that very embarrassing fact? That our own storytellers had warned us about this since the twentieth century, but we didn’t listen? No, it’s real- and all life on the planet is almost wiped out now.”
“Almost wiped out?” Jimmy asked, sitting up a bit.
“There’s a small remnant left,” Chris answered. “But not much. You died already.”
Jimmy swallowed hard, unable to hide his reaction.
“It’s too late in the future, Jimmy, the machines are too strong. But here!” Brady clenched his fist and stepped toward the gangly teen. “Here, there is still something the three of us can do to make sure that when this war comes, the humans come out on top.”
“Are… are you guys going to hurt me?”
Chris looked away sharply. That one almost made him break character. As it was, a snort still escaped from him, but Brady kept it together.
“No, we’re not going to kill you so that you never make the invention. I see where your head is at. Somebody else was bound to if not you, and there’s no telling what kind of chaos we’d create by killing somebody in the past. It has been discussed, but no.”
Chris looked back now, rising to his feet and stepping nearer to Jimmy, who was turning his head as he scooted back in the chair, trying to sit up. Skepticism started to wash away.
“We only have one real shot at this, Jimmy,” Brady began. Chris fell to his knees in front of Jimmy, and Brady joined him. “There’s only one way for humanity to survive.” Brady held his trembling, folded hands before him. “Will you help us? Will you save humanity?”
Jimmy looked uncomfortable, but grave. He was shaking. He looked from Chris to Brady as they kneeled like supplicants before him. It was still for several tense moments, and then, his puberty-ridden voice squeaked out a response.
“What do I have to do?”
The dam had burst, the mission had succeeded. Chris and Brady howled with laughter, rolling on the floor and slapping the ground in delight.
“I told you,” Brady shouted between breaths and guffaws. “I told you he’d believe us.”
“I’m from the future!” Chris declared in a mocking voice.
“Oh, man… oh, this is the best. This is the best freakin’-”
The boys were cut off by the sound of the doorbell. Still laughing, they glanced to the door, and the handle started to turn. The door gently eased open and a man stepped inside, a stern look on his face. He was tall and well-built, and he looked a little bit like Jimmy.
Brady hit Chris in the stomach.
“You said Jimmy lives with his mom!”
“That isn’t my dad…” Jimmy interrupted.
Terror instantly replaced the mirth in the boys as they realized a strange man had just entered the house, and they were alone.
The tall, good-looking intruder glanced down at the fallen groceries and shook his head. He glanced about briefly like he was taking it all in deeply. Then, looking toward the group of boys as if he had momentarily forgotten about them, he descended the small step that led into the sitting area.
“So many memories…” he said wistfully. He shook his head as all of the boys watched, frozen. He cleared his throat, then spoke again. “James,” he said, nodding respectfully at Jimmy. “Just a quick message for you. You grow up to be wealthier than these losers ever dream of. You have a smoking hot wife and a mansion in the Hamptons. This one weighs four hundred pounds, last I checked,” he said, pointing down at the currently very athletic Chris, “and this one can’t seem to hold a job longer than a few weeks, and he’s got some sort of bowel condition too.” The middle-aged man smiled, then, a winning, charming smile. “You boys were right about one thing, though. I do end up inventing something pretty important. It just isn’t robots.”
Hardly believing their eyes, Chris and Brady glanced at one another, scared out of their wits.
“You boys may want to run,” the man said, glancing at his watch. “Chris, your mother is about to come home early and see that you aren’t babysitting like you promised, and Brady- well, I’m not even going to tell you what’s waiting for you at home, but it isn’t pretty, and you better get there before things get worse.”
Nobody moved. Brady’s knees were visibly shaking.
“Did you hear me?” the man demanded. “Go!”
Bumping into each other and staying as far from the well-dressed epiphany as possible, Brady and Chris tore out of Jimmy’s house like a pair of rockets. The man watched them go, shaking his head. Jimmy remained seated in his chair.
“They sure can run, I’ll give that to them though,” the man said.
Jimmy slowly rose from his chair. He inched toward the messenger. Then, glancing upward, he nodded.
“So you heard them talking at school?” the man asked. Jimmy nodded again. The man glanced out the door again, straining to see if he could still catch a sight of them. “I tell you what, if you’re going to bother planning something, you should keep your big mouth shut when somebody might hear you.” Jimmy nodded again.
“Thanks, Uncle Stephen.”
Uncle Stephen reached down and tussled Jimmy’s hair. He’d get his growth spurt soon, he was sure.
“You’re welcome, sport.”
They looked at each other approvingly for a moment.
And then they laughed. They laughed good, hard, and long.
“Who falls for that?” Jimmy asked amidst rolling fits of laughter. He wiped away the mirth from his eyes and held his hands out in pantomime. “I’m from the future!”