Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Lao Tsu, part 3

Part 1
Part 2

Part 3 of 3

Even though the sun had set an hour and a half ago, dark sunglesses stared back at me from under a broad brimmed grey fedora.

My blood turned to ice, and I couldn't say a word. The man smiled. “Hi Frank. It's good to see you. May I come in?” I didn't answer but after a moment he came in anyway.

He walked into the living room where Derek was still sitting, too afraid to move. He kept talking as he sat down across from Derek where I had been sitting. Now he was facing the doorway where I was still standing. All of Derek that I could see was the back of his head and his white-knuckled hands gripping the arms of his chair. He motioned for me to come join them. I thought of the gun that Dad kept in his study, and wondered if I could slip out of the room long enough to...

“Interesting conversation you two were having earlier this afternoon. I figured I ought to get here soon before you guys tie me up and beat a confession out of me. Derek, calm down. Breathe. Oh, and there's a bug transmitter in your shoe which I don't need there anymore. If you could take it out and hand it to me, I'd appreciate it. They're very expensive.”

I walked over cautiously and sat down. Lao Tsu noticed my drink and said “I'm sorry, Frank. I took your seat didn't I?” He handed me my drink. “You two can both relax. I'm not angry. In fact, I was wondering when this would happen and I am surprised that it took so long. You can really keep a secret, Derek. You kept this one for over seventeen years!”

Derek seemed to calm down a bit. This was comforting to me, but I was still nervous. Lao Tsu continued. “Although I didn't expect that drug me and tie me up idea coming. Frank, that was your idea, wasn't it? Could I have something to drink too?”

My instinctual hospitality overcame my uneasiness enough for me to clear my throat and ask what he'd like.

It was Derek who replied, looking at the floor. “Water. No ice. He always has water with no ice.”

“Derek knows me well”, said Lao Tsu. “But I think tonight I'll have a coke. With Ice.”

As I left to the kitchen, Lao Tsu raised his voice to keep me in the conversation. “Derek, I decided before we ever met that if my secretiveness ever threatened our relationship, especially to the point where you would reject anything that I had taught you, I would have to come forward and tell you everything—about me. And you. And why I have been meeting with you all of these years.” Derek was still looking at the floor by the time I returned to the room with the drink. “And Frank, since you know about this too, I figured now was as good of a time as any, since I can tell you both together. By the way, I'm sorry to have gotten you caught up in this thing, but from what Derek has told me about you, you will find all of this very interesting.” He drank from his glass and was silent for a few seconds. “I am . . . I'm a bit like you, Derek. My parents died when I was young and I was raised by my aunt and uncle. But I am different from you in some important ways. I resented my adopted parents for thinking they could replace my real parents. I rebelled against them, and against all of my teachers, and I was mean to my friends, thinking I could do everything on my own, that I didn't need any help or love from anyone. By the time I was thirty, I realized that I had no idea how to reach out to people, or how to be content, or how to be happy at all. I hated myself, and most people that I met. I decided to do something about it. I read self-help books, lots of them. Then tried therapy of all kinds. Psychotherapy. Equine therapy. Crystal Therapy. And those weren't even the weird ones. Then medication, follwed by meditation. Then just about every religion. Looking back I think all of those things helped a little bit. Then I started night classes to study psychology, to try and figure out what makes the mind work, hoping that I could fix myself. That helped a little, but it wasn't enough. I started to accept the grim reality that some things about me would never change, that I would always be miserable most of the time, that people would never really like me very much, that I would never be fit to be a husband, father, friend, or even to be happy . . .”

Lao Tsu was getting emotional. Derek was no longer looking at the floor, but was leaning forward with his hands on his knees, his eyes fixed on Lao Tsu. He continued. “I was almost forty years old by the time I had given up on psychology, religion, and everything, but I had made a few friends along the way. Mostly they were other people like me, who were not very likeable, so I didn't really think of them as friends at the time. One of them was an old man named Stewart, an eccentric electrician and hobbyist who I would sometimes have over for lunch if my TV was broken and I needed it fixed. I must have been one of his only friends too because when he died, he left me some of his possessions. They turned out to be a TV, some of the art from his house, and what looked like some sort of refrigerator with some sort of custom modifications on it. It wasn't long until I realized what the thing was.”

Lao Tsu drank from his glass a second time. Then to our surprise, he reached up and removed his sunglasses. Then his hat. He looked at us expectantly.

I saw it first. It was in the way his lower eyelids tensed a bit as he was concentrating, just like Derek's would. I gasped, but didn't say anything. This man was Derek's biological father! Then Derek noticed it too, and slapped his hands onto his temples as he inhaled sharply. “Wha— and Mom died! I remember the funeral, and seeing you in the casket! How is this possible? And why didn't you tell me when we first met? And what...”

No!” Said Lao Tsu firmly. He sighed. “I am not your father. I've wondered for years what the best way to explain this would be, but . . . Derek, I am not your father. The machine that the old man gave me was a time machine. I am you, at age sixty-five. When we first met, I was you at age forty-three. I have been travelling back in time to help you avoid the mistakes that I made, so that my painful memories would change and I would return to my own time with fewer problems, less baggage...

Derek and I were too confused to ask any questions yet. Lao Tsu looked at the floor and continued.

“I tried to save my parents—your parents—lives. But that was the first thing I learned about time travel. You can change some things but not others. I tried all sorts of things, but they all led to the same result. Then I visited you after they died, and over the next few years helped you accept your adopted parents. I taught you the importance of relationships, thinking deeply, art, beauty, meditation, and simple pleasures. And look at you now! You're keeping bees! I am terrified of bees. And just today you played golf. I hate golf. You enjoy pretty much everything you do, even washing dishes. You can meditate and focus, which makes you a fast learner and a deep thinker. And you have friends. Like Frank, here. I have never in all my life had a friend like Frank. Except for you, Derek. Of course. Our visits are my greatest pleasure. They are pretty much all I care about. I stay up late into the night going over my recordings and notes planning what we will discuss in our next session”

“Wait.” I said, even though I was still reeling from what Lao Tsu, or future Derek, was saying. “What do you mean that you've never had a friend like me? If you're Derek from the future, why don't you remember me?”

“Well, that was the next thing I learned about time travel. After several visits to the past, I realized that even though you can change some things in the past, it doesn't change your own present. It just starts a whole new thing altogether. So really, Derek and I are two completely different people.”

This time it was Derek, the one my age, that spoke up. “I don't understand. If nothing you did changed your own past, why did you bother to keep coming?”

“That was the biggest surprise of all.” Said Lao Tsu. “I was crushed when I realized that our meetings were having no effect on my memories. But then I found myself planning visit after visit anyway. Even though my memories weren't changing, something inside me was. I had a calling. I had something that only I could do, and someone whose future depended on it. If I didn't visit, you would turn out like me. And every time you were kind to your aunt and uncle, or made a new friend, or did well in school, or found a new passion of any kind, I felt like it belonged to me too. I don't know, maybe it's the same thing as parents who live through their children, but I always felt like they were gifts I had given you. I'm convinced that watching what my childhood could have been, and seeing what I could have become, is just as good as if I really could change my own past and my own memories.”

We all sat in silence for a little while, drinking. Then Derek spoke. “Things will be different now, won't they?”

“Yes.” Said LaoTsu. “They will. But things were changing anyway. You have already learned most of what I can teach you. Your time line is already so different from mine that I don't have much hindsight that you can benefit from anymore. I'm really not you at all anymore. Maybe instead of lessons when I come to visit, we could just talk. Like friends do. Like we're doing now.”

After a pause and another drink from his glass he continued, “Yes, things will definitely be different now. . . but don't worry. Things are always different.”

He Talks to Himself , Part 1 to be posted on 3/21/07


Josh said...

Good stuff TR. I was counting down the days to the 2nd and 3rd parts. Have you heard of You can upload your writing and have it printed into a book and then sell them online. If you have a bunch of stories like this one I would totally buy a book from you.

Loki said...

Very enjoyable. I find it interesting that the root of these stories appear to be in the "doppleganger" concept of the double but with a nice twist. This reminds me of a couple of different things that I might suggest reading if you haven't already. "The Black Monk" by Anton Chekhov and maybe even some "double" stories like "William Wilson" by Poe or "Dr. Jekyll" by Stevenson. This is all very interesting to me. By the way if you are wondering why I am such a big fat geek with all this, my thesis covers the Gothic Monster narratives. I am surprised at the similarities. For example if you reread Jekyll and Hyde, most people assume that Jekyll = Good and Hyde = Evil. Where if you look a little deeper it is a little more like this, Jekyll = Good and Evil and Hyde = only evil. Jekyll tells us that Hyde always was a part of him and he wanted to see if it could separate them. Not for Hyde's removal mind you...but for Jekyll's pleasure. Anyway, too much from me in this forum. I look forward to talking with you about your enjoyable writing.

T.R. said...

Josh: I have never heard of that site. I have been thinking about ways to publish these and that seems like a good idea.

Loki:I haven't read either of those but am always looking for new things to read so thank you. Both this story and He Talks to Himself were written for a class that required us to write a sci-fi story that involved some elements of psychology, and I think those constraints proved to be inspirational.

T.R. said...

Actually, now that I think of it, I have read "William Wilson". It was creepy.