Where do you see yourself five years ago?

Sep 4, 2020 • 601 words • 3 minutes
| Science fiction

“Where do you see yourself five years ago?"

The signs hollered at him. Shouted. It was so noisy in here. No one talking. No music playing, everyone just sitting and waiting, reading or toying with phones or lost in thought.

It was the colors, he suspected. All those posters and signs on the walls. The “cheery” green of the paint and clashing purple of the carpet. They were the ones leading to the sense of din. A waiting room should be calm and muted, some part of him reasoned. It should instill boredom, not terror. I shouldn’t flinch away from the walls in a waiting room.

“Where do you see yourself five years ago?"

This one particular sign with its twisting of tense and archaic, faux-1900s aesthetic had caught his eye and would not let him go. It was understated, given much of its competition: red letters stamped on a cream background with silhouettes pointing toward a hopeful sunrise.

He focused his attention on that. Did his best to will tunnel-vision into existence. Tried to block out all of the garish surroundings and just take in those few muted colors.

“Where do you see yourself five years ago?"

He knew where he saw himself. Had agonized over the prospects and lived all those counterfactuals in his head over and over and over to himself. He had read all the brochures — carefully procured away from home, carefully disposed before returning — and had gone through the requisite interviews and investigation. Always careful. Always where Iosef would not see, would not find out.

He knew where he saw himself: he saw himself away from here. Away from where he was. Away from Iosef. Away from that apartment they shared with their cat and all of the pain bound up there. All of the din of anxiety and trauma that those three rooms held.

Finally, they called his name and brought him back into the office. Relief crashed over him in a wave. Relief not at what he was doing — he was mildly surprised that there were no regrets in his mind — but simply at being out of that horrifying waiting room. The office walls were painted a dusty lavender and the furniture all a rustic, unfinished pine.

The contrast would have been jarring if it weren’t so much of a sight for sore eyes.

The official walked him through the steps. He’d get a mild hypnotic. He’d write himself a note to explain why he was here, what he’d done. He’d sit in the chair by the wall, there, and speak the three words he was allowed to speak, and then…

And then he’d be done.

The hypnotic went down easy. It tasted like lemon yogurt.

The note was easy, too. Words flowed onto the paper with a practiced ease.

The chair was comfortable.

The machinery clicked on and the official spoke in quiet, coiling repetitions to him, easing him down into something akin to a trance. “Speak your words, think your words, believe your words. The you of five years ago will hear like a thought unbidden. Speak your words to yourself, think your words to yourself, believe the words you hear. The you of five years ago will hear like a thought unbidden."

And then he spoke: “Don’t say yes.”

A hum, a whirr, a sigh, a beep, a blink, and he was awake.

Frowning, he looked down at the note in his hand. The frown relaxed, turned into a relieved smile.

And when he went home, it was to the apartment he shared only with his cat.