Thursdays are my favorite days because I can always look forward to lunch at Ruth’s Diner; they have the best fries and even better milkshakes. The strawberry-chocolate is my favorite; it’s not on the menu, not on the secret menu either. The staff is just nice enough to make it for me, although the first time, the waitresses refused, but what can I say, I’m a smooth talker. Every Thursday I bring my work with me to Ruth’s and eat my fries and strawberry-chocolate milkshake — I’ve gotten to the point where I can tell the waitress I’ll have the usual. The diner is a good place to write, plenty of original conversations and personas. My buddy Joe calls it plagiarism, but I prefer to call it the making of a good story. Come to think of it, Joe is always careful what he says around me, he thinks I’ll turn every dialogue into a story, but that’s the thing with writers, we are always looking for a foundation for our newest creation.
I arrived at the diner an hour later than usual as I had a meeting with my publisher. Stacy made it her mission to make sure I notice that she noticed I was late. She has a bit of a thing for me. She always gives me the best booth and pours a little more coffee in my cup than she is supposed to while I wait for my order.
“Yeah, it went well, actually, but never mind that. Tell me Stacy, how are you on this fine Thursday afternoon?” She blushed as she seated me and handed me the specials menu. I pushed it back to her and told her I’ll just have the usual. I threw in a wink and her cheeks glowed even brighter. As she left to the kitchen, I logged on to my laptop and pulled up my latest story. I was working on a short sci-fi piece about the postapocalyptic world—typical, I know, but I have a new take on this ancient old story.
A few minutes later, the kitchen door swung open and banged against the wall, knocking off one of the pictures of Ruth and her husband from the 1960’s. There weren’t many customers, but the few that were seated throughout the diner looked up in alarm. Stacy ran to me pulled me close by my collar.
“Woah, honey, what’s going on?” I asked as she stared into my eyes. She was so close to me that our noses were almost touching. I held my breath as I gazed into the hazel streaks of her muddy eyes. Her small face was too close to mine to read her expression, but her eyes were frantic. I refocused my eyes and noticed something strange in hers. The center of her iris began to glow gold, I looked carefully and I could see a clear lens covering the majority of her eye; it was like one of those futuristic contact lenses. A moment later the gold faded and she recoiled. I caught my breath. The rest of the kitchen staff had emerged and now stood behind her.
Stacy turned to them. “I’ve got one.” Her voice was firm and out of character.
“Me too,” replied a short blonde.
“And me,” said the youngest.
“Anyone else?” Stacy asked. The others shook their heads.
“What’s going on?” I asked as I stood from my table, but they all ignored me.
“Okay, clear out the rest of them.” Immediately upon Stacy’s orders the staff began rushing people out of the dinner. The youngest waitress was the fiercest. She tore a man’s burger from his hands and forced him out. Within minutes, the diner was empty, save me, an elderly Asian man who obliviously continued to eat his lunch, a worried woman in a pant-suit, and the diner staff. Even in all the confusion and excitement, I couldn’t help but think that this would make for a great story.
“Gina, alert headquarters. We’ve got three.” Stacy ordered. She had assumed a completely contrasting character from her usual nervous and bubbly self.
“Three what?” I asked.
“Three candidates for O.T.I.S.” she replied as she herded me towards the kitchen entrance.
“Who’s Otis?” the woman in the pant-suit asked before I had the chance, but no one replied. She turned to me for some sort of reassurance, but all I could do was shrug. I knew as much as she did.
The older man seemed to be obliviously complying, he had remained silent, although his face was beginning to grow apprehensive.Stacy led us through the kitchen while Gina, a young redhead with stern emerald eyes, monitored the back of the group. I lost sight of the short blonde but I could hear her talking to the staff back in the diner, although I couldn’t make out what she was saying. The older man tripped and grabbed the counter to catch his balance, knocking over some dishes in the process.
“Who chose him?” Stacy yelled.
“Marie,” replied Gina, her mouth birthing a wicked smile.
“Get him out of here.” Gina grabbed the man by his arm and led him back to the diner.
“Where are you taking him?” I asked, as the woman simultaneously asked what’s going on.
Stacy held the backdoor open for us as we entered a stadium sized room whose walls were dark and seemingly infinite. In the center of the room stood a full-sized, brightly lit, merry-go-around. Its golden lights radiated the room, stretching out to just enough to still maintain a spotlight effect.
“What the hell-“
“That’s the merry-go-around from Wellington,” said the woman.
“That’s correct,” replied Stacy.
I turned to the woman, “What is going on?”
“Don’t you watch the news?” she retorted as if I had offended her. I actually don’t watch the news but in efforts to not come off as completely clueless, I told her I had been out camping in the woods this week to concentrate on my writing. Details make the lie believable, or so I’ve heard, but the woman wasn’t interested in my defense, regardless.
“That’s the stolen merry-go-around,” she indicated with a nod, “from Wellington Park.”
“How can you steal a merry-go-around?” I laughed but before the woman could answer, Stacy called for our attention.
“This isn’t a merry-go-around-“
“Uh, yes, yes it is. It’s a huge spinning wheel with wooden animals bobbing up and down to music. How is that not a merry-go-around?” I interjected, trying to sound smart, but regretted it instantaneously.
Stacy eyed me and waited until she was sure I wouldn’t interrupt again, then continued. “It isn’t just a merry-go-around. This particular machine was built on top of an intensive zone of time eccentricity.” I looked at the woman and she looked back at me with equal confusion. “Over the years, as the merry-go-around revolved, it increased the potential of this distortion in time.”
“Distortion in time,” the woman spoke slowly, “like a time warp?”
“What?” I burst. “Stacy, you can’t be serious.”
“These distortions in time, they are very common, actually, but they are also very small,” she paused. “Helena,” she spoke to the woman, “have you ever had déjà vu?” Helena nodded. “Did you ever stop to think what déjà vu actually is?”
“The mind’s inability to store a memory,” Helena stated.
Stacy rolled her eyes and gave a sarcastic laugh. “That’s what they tell you, yes,” she drew a breath, “Déjà vu occurs when you walk into an anomaly in spacetime—it distorts time so that you walk into the same moment twice. The larger the distortion, the further back you relive that…memory, as you say.”
I blinked, rather dramatically, but I couldn’t help but think I was living through one of my stories. “Stacy, you know I write stories for a living, right? Are you playing me right now?”
“This isn’t a joke!”
“How do we know you’re telling the truth?” Helena interrupted.
“O.T.I.S. will tell you the truth.”
“Alright, where are the cameras? Who’s behind all this, huh? Joe?”
“Shut up, will you,” Stacy roared. I had clearly pushed her beyond mere agitation.
“Who is Otis, Stacy?” asked Helena, trying to resume composure.
“Not, who, what.” said Stacy. “O.T.I.S. is an acronym for Ocular Transmission Intelligence System.”
“That’s the thing in your eye…” I was beginning to believe this whole thing was real.
“Right. It’s an intelligence system. It allows me, and anyone who has one, to detect one of these time anomalies.”
“Okay, great. But why.” I always needed to know why. Like I said, you need details to make a story believable, so if I was to believe all of this, I needed the specifics.