“You ever get deja vu?”
Daniel pulled his head out of the world of Borribles and closed the paperback. A near toad of a man looked at him from the next table. He wore tan corduroys and his T-shirt said, ‘Get meaning here.’
“I beg your pardon?”
“Deja vu. I swear I’ve met you before in a coffee shop just like this one.”
Daniel reached out his hand. “Daniel Glenn.”
The toad took his hand and shook. “I don’t know my name.”
“Seriously? Can I help?”
“I wish you would. The only thing I’m certain of at the moment is that I know you.”
“Hnh.” Daniel was positive he’d never met this man—you don’t forget a face like that, which means he was probably going to meet him on a future trip back in the time with the university’s time machine. “It’s entirely possible that we’ve met, but I can’t get to my memory of you yet. It’s sort of an occupational hazard. Do you know where you live?”
The man shook his head, jowls jiggling. Did they do something to him with their time experiments that rendered him without memory?
“Come with me, then.” Daniel stood and shoved his book in his back pocket. “You want some coffee?”
Daniel drove the toad to the university and had the department secretary cancel his morning classes. Inside the time travel control center, Lawrence Jacobson studied timelines and ran their planned time travel experiments through simulations.
“Dr. Jacobson.” Daniel whistled to get him to look up, to no avail. “I ran into this gentleman a few minutes ago. He says he knows me.”
Daniel leaned over an whispered. “I’ve never met him before, and he’s got amnesia.”
Lawrence visibly winced when he looked up at the man. “Hello.”
“Hello.” The toad gave a little bow.
“Do you remember how you met Daniel?”
“I bumped into him at a coffee shop.”
“Which one?” asked Lawrence.
“I don’t remember.”
“It could have been Lacy’s by my house,” said Daniel. “I hang out there a lot Saturday afternoons.”
“Still trying there?” asked Lawrence.
Daniel chuckled. “She rejects me every time, but she’s fun to flirt with.”
“You’ll flirt with a coffee shop manager, but you won’t go out with my sister.”
Daniel ignored the comment. “Sir, you mind if we take your fingerprints? We might be able to identify you through IAFIS.”
“Sure. If you think it will help.”
“Do you remember your occupation?” asked Lawrence.
“No, but I know I like to cook.”
“Are you hungry?” asked Daniel.
IAFIS didn’t produce any results, so they had to decide what to do with the man.
“We’ll check missing persons with the police,” said Daniel. “But we’d like to keep you around in case we find some temporal reason you lost your memory. Do you mind staying at my house until we figure it out?”
“Sure,” said the toad.
Lawrence tapped a pencil. “We need a name for you. Until we find your real one.”
“I like Ralphie,” said the toad.
“Is that your name?” asked Lawrence.
“I don’t know. I just like it.”
Lawrence shrugged. “Okay.”
Ralphie was pleasant company for the next several days. His depth of knowledge was shallow, but he had insatiable curiosity. Daniel purchased some clothes for him at Target, but as soon as they washed, Ralphie preferred his cords and T-shirt. After getting nowhere regarding his identity for nine days, Lawrence proposed a reconnaissance trip.
“There’s an empty apartment with a balcony across the street from that coffee shop. Why don’t you and Ralphie travel a couple hours prior to your encounter, and watch for where he comes from before entering the coffee shop? If you’re lucky, it will give you a clue about where he’s from.”
Daniel nodded, hands in pockets. “We’ve exhausted everything else.” He smiled at Ralphie. “What do you think? Want to travel through time?”
Ralphie gasped and turned pale. “It seems very important now. Like my life depends on it.”
“It’ll be easy. All we’re going to do is observe.”
The following day, Ralphie trembled before climbing into the time machine, but insisted they still go.
The time machine always twisted Daniel’s reality, throwing his orientation of up and down out of whack, and folding his senses in upon themselves, but something amplified this trip, increasing the sensations radically, and filling them with something outlandish and intense. As usual, the landing seemed to drop him out of the sky, but without the physical shock of hitting the ground.
The apartment was bare and clean. They stood out on the balcony and kept watch up and down the street for Ralphie’s corduroys and T-shirt, the same ones he had on for the trip.
“Hungry?” asked Daniel.
Ralphie nodded. He seemed to relax now that they’d arrived. Daniel handed him a granola bar with a bright red wrapper. “I’m hitting the head. Yell if you see yourself.”
When Daniel came out of the bathroom, Ralphie was gone.
“Damn. What’s he doing?” He poked his head into the hallway, but it was empty. He went back onto the balcony to continue the watch, intending to search for him afterwards.
Daniel spotted him directly below coming out of the apartment building. “Dammit. He’ll run into himself.”
Ralphie put the red wrapper to his mouth, then discarded it into a waste can. He looked up and down the street, then crossed to the coffee shop and went in.
Daniel gasped at the implications and whispered to himself. “You ever get deja vu?”
For more time-travel stories, check out Day 7: Four Knocks, Day 18: Time Travel Forensics (TTF), Day 31: A Scamper in Time, Day 39: Time is Murder, Day 99: Four Dudes and a Wormhole, Day 127: Daniel Went Too Far, Day 137: Time Machine Breakdown, and Day 166: The Sad Stories of Sam and Glenda.