Jordan had a lot on his mind, but he did not know if he could share it all with Amy. Their friendship was not what it once was, and he wondered if going out to dinner with her was a good idea, especially considering the paranoia that had grown in him lately. He’d intended to use tonight’s dinner as an opportunity to reconnect with her, but he wondered more and more whether he was in the right frame of mind to accomplish that. At least he would be meeting her at a restaurant he liked, a quiet but expensive steak house just off New York’s eighth avenue, a couple of blocks south of Central Park. A business partner brought him here a few months ago and the steak had been cooked just as Jordan requested: rare and bloody.
Not that he had much of an appetite now. At first, he told himself it had to do with the fact that he was meeting Amy, but he soon had to admit to himself that his lack of hunger was due to concerns over his new acquisition, the technological miracle that allowed him to be in Chicago seven and a half minutes ago and in New York City now.
When he entered the restaurant, he surveyed it, seeing if he recognized anyone other than Amy. Everyone in the steakhouse wore business casual clothing. Jordan sported a tie with silver stars his father had gotten him, but he’d left his jacket at the office. His shirt was wrinkled now, which irked him, but that seemed to be a side effect of his new method of transportation. Still, he thought he was better dressed than anyone else in the restaurant and took some small pride in that.
Amy sat alone, already drinking a glass of wine. She’d dyed her hair darker since Jordan had last seen her, in June. Might as well have been another life.
“Amy,” Jordan said. He didn’t want to shake her hand, thought it too formal, but didn’t know if they were still close enough for a hug.
Amy decided for him, lifting her glass of wine as if to toast his entrance. “Welcome, welcome.” She looked tired around the eyes, which wasn’t a surprise. She probably worked as many hours as Jordan did, maybe more. Otherwise, she appeared much the same as he remembered. She had a large, toothy smile and narrow eyes, as if she was permanently suspicious. He wondered if he looked the same to her or if she noticed the new lines on his face or the hint of an extra few pounds in his belly.
“How are you?” Jordan asked, taking a seat.
“I’m me,” she said.
An older waiter walked over to take Jordan’s wine order but Jordan asked only for water. Alcohol would have settled his nerves, but he didn’t want to be drunk or even tipsy for his trip back. “How’s Keith?”
Amy snorted. “We broke up.”
“You didn’t tell me that.” But why would she? Their texts were just check-ins now, a greeting on a holiday or a message on a birthday.
She waved his comment away, an act of dismissal that he did not care for. “Happened a couple of weeks ago. I’m thinking of just telling people he got abducted by aliens. It was past time, to be honest. That relationship needed to be killed.”
“Don’t hold back,” said Jordan.
“Don’t get me started. Tell me how you are.”
The waiter came over before he could answer. Amy ordered salmon, Jordan just a salad.
“Not too hungry?” Amy asked him.
“Big lunch.” Jordan tried to shift the conversation away from himself. “Excited to explore the dating pool now that Keith is out of the picture?”
“I think I’ll be happily single for a while. No dating apps for me. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.” She smirked, which worried Jordan. “But don’t think I didn’t notice you evading my question.”
He picked up his napkin, playing with it without realizing what he was doing. “I didn’t mean to.”
Amy leaned forward and said, “I’m asking with an agenda, I’ll admit. I’m curious about this big ass bonus I’ve been hearing that you got.”
“What happened to friends not talking about money?”
“Oh, fuck that. A few million?”
Jordan knew he should not say anything because he suspected where she was going, but he couldn’t help himself. “Maybe a little higher.”
“Damn. I mean, I’m making bank, too, but not like you.”
“How is work?” Jordan asked, hoping to keep her off track. It worked. She told him about her engineering firm’s latest conquests. Halfway through her explanation, the waiter brought their food. Amy dug into her salmon, but Jordan took his time with his salad. The conversation continued smoothly, and Jordan could feel their old rhythm returning, but he felt a little removed from the conversation, as if he was half a participant and half a bystander.
With just a few bites left of her fish, Amy said, “There’s something I want to go back to.”
Jesus. “Oh, what’s that?”
“Your bonus. Or, rather, what you did with it. Because there’s a rumor going around that you invested in some sort of new technology. Some Star Trek-like shit. Or Star Wars. I always get them confused.”
Jordan bristled at the description. He wanted to change the topic again, but he didn’t like the implication that he was playing around with ideas out of a television show. “When you make money, people claim you’re buying all sorts of things,” he said. He tried to choose his words carefully. “You know me, I wouldn’t buy into anything crazy.”
“That’s what I thought, but I hear you have a magic room where you transport across half the country.”
What a description. Did she want to humiliate him or something? “No, it’s not like that.” He paused. It rather was like that. “I mean, look. This will sound crazy at first, no doubt about it. But, yes, it’s real, and, yes, it does work. I just go into a room and then five minutes later I’m in New York City or Chicago.”
“This is absolutely bonkers,” said Amy. “A couple people mentioned you’d gotten into something weird, that there were rumors you were investing in some new technology. But then someone, and I won’t say who, said you were using a new form of transportation. I thought it was crazy talk, but I have it on good authority that as of this afternoon you were in Chicago instead of visiting New York like you told me earlier today. You better give me details, J.”
Details. He was thinking about transportation details far too much lately. “Okay, so, this guy, Jonathan, took me to the Tyrius building in Chicago, Tyrius is the company that owns this thing, and they took me to the twentieth floor. Really austere place. No design. Like one of those government installations you see in a documentary set in the ‘60s. They brought me to a room. There’s a guard or a technician, maybe both, who sits at a computer. Across from him is what’s like a closet but one of those nice walk-in ones. Spacey. Jonathan goes into the closet. The technician types a few things into the computer. There’s a soft sound. Ten minutes pass and Jonathan comes back out. He tells me he was just in New York City.”
The waiter took their plates and asked if they were interested in dessert. Jordan said no; Amy asked for another glass of wine. “I’m hearing a whopper,” she told the waiter. Once he stepped away, Amy said, “Did you believe him?”
“I don’t know,” said Jordan. He had believed him, though. He couldn’t admit that, but he had believed the man without question. “I stepped into it for myself. Nothing happened so I walked out. Except the technician was different. A woman. I walked out into the hall and the hall was different, too. A lot more modern, for one. And outside the window? New York City. Empire State Building and the harbor and everything.”
Amy shook her head. “Fuck, man. I think I would’ve fainted. Or suspected a really involved scam.”
“It felt real,” said Jordan. “Hell, I knew it was real. I went back into the closet and then, boom, back in Chicago.” Jordan remembered stepping back out, seeing the previous technician again, wondering just how he’d traveled, while a figure in the back of his mind shook its head, telling him not to ask too many questions.
“I gotta try this thing,” Amy said.
“No,” Jordan said, louder than he’d meant. “Listen. That’s not a good idea.”
“Why? Do you have restricted access to it?”
“No, it’s mine to access when I want. As far as I know, there’s only one other guy who has authority to use it. He was in on this before me. I’ve never met him. But I can bring anyone with me if I want to. I just don’t.”
Jordan expected Amy to grow angry, maybe even point to this as an example of why their friendship had frayed. Instead, she laughed. “Listen, we’ve been friends for, what, fifteen years now? I can tell when there’s something up. Why don’t you tell me what’s bugging you? I won’t judge.”
He wasn’t sure about that, but he wanted to tell someone, to see if by verbalizing his worries they would dissipate. He hadn’t shared much with Amy in a while, but he remembered when they used to talk, when he used to tell her his fears without censoring himself. He’d listen to her for hours and she to him. They’d laugh, too, especially back in college, especially in the autumn after a summer of having been away from each other. “No matter what, you’re not going in it. Even if you think I’m paranoid and that what I say is ridiculous.”
Amy shrugged. “Chicago sucks anyway. Go on.”
Jordan braced himself, feeling like a kid again, when he needed to tell his parents about the recurring nightmare he had, the one with the man standing over his bed. Despite knowing it was just a dream, he’d always needed confirmation from someone else that there was nothing to worry about. “It’s just that one day, I thought to myself, what if it’s not really me coming out of there?”
“Like an imposter?”
“In a way.”
“Then you’d be the imposter and you’d know that.”
He waved the comment away. “Don’t think imposter then. Think a twin maybe. Or a clone. I don’t know. But I think to myself, what if I walk into that room and the me who comes out the other side isn’t the same. The original me, and all the other mes who went through it since, are just piled up somewhere. Each time I come out, it’s a new me, one with the same memories, but with a little bit less of what makes me who I am. You see, it takes five minutes to travel. But during those five minutes? I don’t remember a single thing. Nothing. I know time passed, but I can’t recall what occurred. And now I’m worrying about what does.”
“Yeah, that’s pretty paranoid,” said Amy. “I get it, though.”
“Sure. I think it’s normal for any new technology to make us paranoid. Like when people saw movies for the first time and thought the train on the screen could run them over.”
That sounded like a rational explanation, but Jordan wasn’t quite satisfied, although he did not want to admit that much to Amy. Sure, new tech could give anyone the scare, but this was different. This went to his sense of self. At least, the sense of self he had today. “Yeah, that’s true.”
“You’re not convinced,” she said. “I get that, too.”
“Who said I’m not convinced?”
The waiter dropped off the check, giving Jordan a moment’s reprieve. He could tell Amy would not be giving up. Maybe that meant something, maybe there was something here still worth saving.
“Here’s my question to you,” said Amy. “Why not just stop using it?”
Five times Jordan had said to himself he’d do just that. “I can’t. I paid millions of dollars for this privilege. And now that people know I have it- you somehow found out and a few others have dropped hints to me- how can I just slink away from it? People will think I got into something stupid and was scammed.”
Amy jerked her head back. “Seriously? Who gives a shit? If it’s causing you this much anxiety, just stop.”
She didn’t understand. Probably never would. Once you were known for having power, you could never lose it. “I’ll think about it,” he said. They paid the check and left together. Night had come. The city was still busy and loud.
“It’s funny, but I really do get where you’re coming from,” said Amy. She walked quickly, always had. Jordan struggled to keep up at first. He started to sweat. It’d been cooler in Chicago, the breeze coming in off the water all day. The New York air was still.
“Stupid story. When I was a kid I had this weird thing with dreams. My dreams themselves were normal. Normal for dreams, that is. Y’know, you’ll be in the kitchen in your dream but your bed is in the kitchen, too, for some reason. But I would wake up convinced that a part of me was still caught in the dream and that I was only a partial person.”
Jordan thought it over in his head. He wasn’t sure how she saw a connection, but if it meant she didn’t think he was a lunatic then he would not argue the point. “How old were you when you thought about this?”
“Oh, I didn’t think about it. I was obsessed about it. I was ten and it ruled my life for a whole summer. Then the idea faded away and life went on. Things get stuck in your head, J. That’s all.”
“I suppose that’s true.”
“Are you going to zap home?” asked Amy.
He hated the word “zap” but refrained from correcting her; he didn’t really know what he’d even instruct her to say. “Yeah, I have to be back for work in the morning.”
“Me, too. I should get home. I try to go to bed earlier nowadays. I don’t sleep as well as I used to. Remember when we used to be able to stay up all night without it causing a killer headache the next day?”
“Yeah, I do,” he said, although those memories were not as potent as they once were.
She came in for a hug. “We need to do this more often. I miss it.”
Jordan wrapped his arms around her, not sure how he felt about the hug but not impolite enough to avoid it. After a moment, Jordan felt Amy stiffen and pull away. “Something wrong?” Jordan asked.
She looked at him for a few seconds. “No, nothing. I just had a weird moment. We have to make more of an effort to see each other, J. I’ve missed hearing from you.”
He caught her implication that it was him who had been the one responsible for the distance in the relationship. Maybe she was right. When was the last time he felt the need to reach out to her or anyone else for that matter? “I’ll make more of an effort.”
Amy gave him a wave before walking down the street and around the corner. A tinge of guilt hit him. He had wasted their dinner talking about his paranoia and barely heard a word she had said.
As he walked back to the Tyrius offices, he thought about his friends and how there were fewer of them now. He tried to justify this attrition by thinking it’s the normal path in life, you get older and people just slip away as life becomes busier. Some people stick but most don’t. Yet, he could not help but question why he’d become so removed from life nor could he totally discount his paranoid beliefs about his transportation method, stupid as they were. More and more he suspected a connection even as the rational part of his mind laughed at him.
Jordan’s mind cycled through these concerns until he reached the fifth floor of the Tyrius building. Inside the departure room, a technician sat behind a desk with a computer on it. Across from him was the closet. The room was otherwise empty. The walls were painted black, which made the room seem vast.
The technician, a short man who could only be a few years out of college, stood up and said, “Welcome back, sir. You ready to head home?” He was pale, like he hadn’t been out in the sun much this summer.
“Yes,” said Jordan. He eyed the door that led to the transportation space. “Has anyone else used it recently?”
The technician balked at the question. “Why, no, sir. No one at all. I have only one other non-Tyrius person on the list of who is allowed to use it. He hasn’t been here for a while, though.”
“Do you know why?”
“Excuse me, sir?”
“Do you know why this other man hasn’t used it lately?”
“I have no idea, sir.”
Jordan sighed. If only this other man was around, Jordan could have asked him if he, too, had the same anxieties. “Don’t worry about it. Anyhow, I’m ready.” He walked over to the door and placed his hand on the knob. He twisted it back and forth for a moment before pulling it. He stepped into the smaller room, which was painted as black as the other.
“All set, sir,” said the technician. He walked around the desk and began to shut the door.
“Wait,” said Jordan.
“The other guy: did he ever seem concerned?”
The technician took a second before replying. “Concerned about what, sir?
“About this,” said Jordan. “About what goes on in here.”
“He didn’t say anything to me,” said the technician. “I’ve only been stationed here for a little while, though. I think he used to come more often. I do know that he complained the process seemed to wrinkle whatever he was wearing.” He paused. “There was one other thing he said, although I have no idea what it meant.”
Jordan started to sweat. “What did he say?”
“Let me think if I can get it right.” The technician scrunched up his face as he tried to remember. “He said, ‘Sometimes it feels a lot colder in here.’ That was it.”
“What does that even mean?” asked Jordan.
“Beats me, sir.” The technician shut the door.
Dark and so cold. Jordan had been here before, probably as many times as he’d traveled. Funny how it slipped away whenever he arrived at his destination, leaving only a sense of unease.
Jordan’s eyes began to adjust, and he could make out a rocking chair sitting in the corner of the room. He turned around and saw a bed. Someone slept in it. The figure looked like himself, but younger, when he was a boy. The young version of him twisted and turned beneath the sheets.
To his right, a door opened. White light came from it and a familiar man stepped through the doorway. The man walked over to the bed, removed a knife from his pocket, and stabbed the boy to death. He picked up the body and carried it across the room. Another door opened, seemingly of its own accord, and the man dumped the child’s body in this new room. Like the other room, this one emitted white light, but Jordan could see that it was filled with bodies. Yet all the bodies appeared to be the same. All of them were the young boy. He tried to count them but could not be certain of the number. If forced to answer, he would say there were as many bodies as there were trips that he had taken.
The familiar man turned around and said to Jordan, “There will be another child. Thank you for your donation. Go forth and enjoy the day.”
Both doors shut at once and darkness won.
“Welcome back, sir.” The technician on this side was an older woman with gray hair and thick-rimmed glasses. “How was New York?”
“Muggy,” said Jordan as he stepped out.
“I’ve always preferred Chicago.”
Jordan shrugged. “All cities are the same when you get down to it.” He headed out of the room, down the long hall, and to the elevator. He checked his phone and saw a text from Amy:
I had fun, paranoia boy. We need to do this more often, like we used to.
Jordan considered replying but decided to delete the text, the night’s dinner already a fading dream. Any urge to talk to Amy had faded. He stuffed the phone back in his pocket and forgot about all those years of laughs and late-night talks.
Donald McCarthy is a writer and teacher from New York. A complete list of his works can be found at http://www.donaldmccarthy.com.