"The future of the entire world could be at stake."
A Note from the Author:
The following short story is based on a larger concept that I've been working on for over five years -- since my junior year of high school! I hope to one day make a science fiction novel out of it. I've even started writing a screenplay based on the idea, as my biggest dream is for it to become a movie. Thank you to Vocal Media for inspiring me and encouraging me to continue working on this intricate project!
Henry and Vienna were celebrating at midnight, as they always did. Everyone was asleep, so they could be themselves. They excitedly arranged eighteen green candles on a cake from Vienna's favorite bakery. As they lit each one, they reflected on the years they’ve known each other.
On July 8, 1957, after spending two lonely years in the orphanage, Vienna gained a best friend. At 2 a.m., when all of the children were supposed to be in bed, Vienna watched from upstairs as Headmaster Hopkins opened the front door, shook her umbrella, and brought in a new kid. He looked terrified. Vienna was distracted by his appearance. He had a bruise on his left temple, a black eye, and a large cut on his lip. Headmaster Hopkins brought him up the stairs, and Vienna scurried into her dormitory. The next morning, at breakfast, while all of the other children stared at Henry, Vienna actually approached him. They became instant friends. That same night, Vienna and Henry exchanged stories. He told her how he was taken away from his father, and she told him how her father was taken away from her.
In 1955, when she was just ten years old, Vienna's father was shot while at work. The suspects were never caught. That same night, her mother had gone on a last-minute trip and not returned. In the blink of an eye, Vienna was living at the orphanage. There was no closure in sight.
What really bonded Henry and Vienna was the trust that they had in each other. Despite what Headmaster Hopkins and the other orphans said, Vienna truly believed that Henry's father loved him. And, when Vienna gathered the courage to tell Henry her own story, he never doubted that she was telling the truth either.
Once all eighteen candles were lit, Henry sang an enthusiastic but quiet happy birthday to her. She wouldn’t get any other attention for the rest of the day, as the orphanage didn’t celebrate birthdays.
Vienna blew out her candles and began to cry. Henry had been anticipating it -- Vienna had cried after blowing out her birthday candles for five consecutive years, and her mother would have had to have come back for her to not have cried this year.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, even though he already knew the answer.
Vienna remained silent.
Henry got suspicious.
“Is it the vanilla cake?" he asked, even though he knew it wasn't about the cake.
He continued, "I wanted to get the one we usually get, but I missed the first bus in the morning and by the time I'd gotten there they'd run--"
“It’s not the cake, Henry. That’s not why I’m crying,” she said.
Henry put the knife down. He waited for her to tell him the usual: that she wishes her mother would come back.
Vienna’s mother was a time traveller. In fact, the last-minute trip was a trip to the future. Age 12 at the time he found out, Henry had no problem believing Vienna. She appreciated that, as the other kids not only doubted her otherworldly stories but also tried to convince her that they weren't true. Eventually, word spread from the orphanage and to the local schools, and it became the norm in the city to think that Vienna's mother was a psychopath. Her classmates would make posters calling her mother a psycho and drawing pictures of her being taken away to an asylum. They bullied Vienna often, telling her that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and that she would end up in the same place as her mother. Their words had the power to hurt Vienna, but they didn't. Not even Vienna knew where her mother was, so how could they?
Over the years, Henry had more and more questions regarding Vienna’s powers, which she had inherited from her mother. Luckily, he never lost trust in her and even at eighteen years old still believed that her mom had travelled to the future and not returned. The secret brought them closer together.
Unfortunately for Vienna, the story was like a tumor growing inside of her heart. It grew with her, but it was going to kill her if she didn’t put an end to it.
Vienna wiped her tears and composed herself. Henry was very concerned. He could sense that she was hiding something.
"I'm leaving," she said.
“What? What do you mean?” he asked.
“Vienna?” he asked worriedly.
“I’m going to the future,” she admitted.
Vienna took a deep breath.
“Two weeks ago... in the middle of the night... I kind of freaked out, and I snuck into Headmaster Hopkins' office. I found a little black notebook in my file. There was a note in there and a check for $20,000. Addressed to me... from my mom. So I'm going. I was just going to wait... well, until today, so when I get there I can rent an apartment and stuff like that... as an eighteen year old,” she said.
Henry stared blankly ahead.
"I don't understand," he said, "What does a check for $20,000 have to do with the future? That's probably just money she wanted you to have... you know, here. In 1963."
"I forgot," she said, pulling the check out of her pocket, "Look... the check is dated in 2022."
Henry stared down at the check in disbelief. His breaths quickened.
"Go to the last place you saw me. That's what she wrote in the note," Vienna started, pulling a small paper out of her pocket and placing it in front of him. The note seemed to have been written in a hurry.
"She could be there. I mean... from the way it looks, she is there. In 2022. Maybe at my home address? That's the last place I saw her. Either she's waiting for me, or she's in trouble," she said.
"Vienna... you won't be able to come back," he said.
Since Vienna's father was not a time traveler, she had only inherited half of the power. She could travel forward in time, but she could not travel backward.
"What if you get there and you find out that it was a mistake or that you've been tricked or that she's... you know," Henry said.
"I have to take the chance," Vienna said.
Henry didn’t move or say anything.
"And I am so sorry," she continued, "But you understand, don't you? How I have to go? I wish I didn't have to... but I feel like I have no choice. And you're going to Harvard, and I wouldn't be there anyway, so--"
"Harvard? Really? That's not the same, Vienna! You think that just because I’m going to Harvard, you can go to the future?! I'll never see you again!"
"Maybe you will! When you're... 77."
"So what, I'm supposed to wait for you?"
"No! That's not what I meant. What I'm trying to say is..."
She paused. She put her hand on his hand.
"I'm leaving. Okay? In the morning. I don't want to leave you. I really don't. It's the scariest thing I've ever had to do. But the idea of staying here? And the unknown staying unknown? That's even scarier. Okay?" she asked.
Henry, in silent acceptance, grabbed the knife and started cutting the cake. Watching her best friend suffer killed Vienna.
Henry paused and stared remorsefully at his reflection in the knife.
"Our last cake and I couldn't even get the chocolate one," he said.
The next morning, Vienna and Henry sat outside their favorite market and finished their last meal together. They ate sandwiches and apples, and split a piece of bubblegum.
Henry offered Vienna his allowance of a quarter.
"Take this," he told her.
"Henry... I have a check for $20,000. I don't need your allowance," she said.
"Well, you're going to need some spending money. You can't just hand over a check for $20,000 if you want a stick of gum."
"I'm not going to need a stick of gum."
"Just take it."
Vienna sighed and took the cash.
She looked around for something she could use to thank him, and her eye caught the marigold bush beside their table. She picked a flower and handed it to him.
"To remember me," she said.
"Vienna... I'll never forget you."
Henry pulled a Shelley Fabares record out of his backpack and handed it to her.
"But you might," he said.
"Henry... you know I won't," she assured him, "As soon as I get there, I'm heading straight to the library and going through the news archives. I'll start at today's date -- September 13th, 1963. It'll feel like I'm living alongside you. My mom told me that's something time travelers do. I'll probably find out that you cured cancer or something. August 9th, 1970. That's my guess. A big New York Times headline with your name in it. Sounds good, doesn't it?"
"Maybe for you. I actually have to wait seven years."
"Speaking of waiting... don't," she started, "Okay? Just go on, and live your life. And, in time, if we eventually run into each other, all the merrier. But if we don't... well, that's why we're saying goodbye now."
Henry gazed down at the marigold.
"I'm going to miss you a lot," he said.
"I'm going to miss you too," she said.
They sat in silence. Vienna stood up.
"Okay, let's pull the band-aid off quickly."
Henry stood up.
"You're going to have the best time at Harvard," she started, "You're going to make hundreds of friends. You're going to get A's in all of your classes and go straight to med school with no problem. And you're going to--"
"Vienna, you don't have to try to make this moment happy. It's a bad moment. We can just be sad about it."
Reality finally hit Vienna. It was a bad moment. She was going to leave her best friend and her life behind. Just as she felt her eyes filling with tears, she embraced Henry.
As she held him, she almost changed her mind about going. But then she remembered her mother.
"I love you," she said, squeezing him tightly.
“I love you too,” he said.
When they parted, Vienna couldn't get herself to look at him. She quickly wiped her cheeks, grabbed her belongings, and headed to the market bathroom to kickstart her time travel journey.
She was scared, but she forced herself to be couragous. Once inside the bathroom, she looked at herself in the mirror, took her last breath of 1963, and disappeared in a matter of seconds.
The trip occurred in the blink of an eye. One second she was in the bathroom of Valerie's Market, and the next she was... in the bathroom of Valerie's Market?
She looked around, confused. Did it work?
She opened the door of the bathroom to find a revamped Valerie's Market stocked with oreo cookies and goldfish crackers where there once were fruits and vegetables.
She was astounded. She was happy that the market still existed, and she was amused by the lack of remoddeling in the bathroom.
There were too many differences to only acknowledge one, so she acknowledged all of them, and it was overwhelming. The cars outside weren't pink or yellow or green. They were all different shades of silver and black. They were so shiny they made her eyes hurt. She didn't know if the sun was brighter or if the metal was more reflective.
Vienna disliked change and almost felt like crying. However, she focused on her mother; finding her or at least finding out what happened to her would make the whole trip worth something -- or rather, worth everything.
Looking around the store, she felt more and more alien. Where there used to be film and camera batteries were phone chargers and phone earphones. She started worrying about how she would be able to start a completely new life in a place she could hardly understand.
She tried to focus on something else -- something lighthearted. She immediately thought of her bubblegum. It was still in her mouth, but it was stale. She walked over to the counter to buy a new piece.
Bubblegum was one of the only items being sold that she could recognize. The brand was different, but she knew bubblegum when she saw it.
She grabbed a pack, pulled out a dime, and had her first encounter of 2022.
"You're short $2.90."
"This gum is $3."
"No, I just want one pack."
"One pack is $3. You're handing me a dime."
Vienna looked down at the dime and sighed.
"Sorry," she said, putting the gum back, "all I have is a quarter."
"I can pay for it," a young man behind her said.
"Oh no... you don't have to-"
"It's no problem," he said, "Just give me a piece."
"Okay," she smiled.
He gave the cashier money and handed Vienna her bubblegum.
"Thank you so much," she said, handing him a piece of gum.
"So you never knew that bubblegum costs more than a dime?" he asked.
He laughed, "really? Where are you from?"
She froze. She didn't know what to say. She thought of 1963, her birthday, and the green candles.
"Greenland," she said.
"Cool," he said, "well, welcome to America, where everything's expensive."
He turned around and walked out the door. Vienna laughed to herself. She unwrapped a piece of gum. As she took the old piece out of her mouth, she remembered she had told Henry she would go to the library first thing upon arrival.
Luckily, the library Vienna and Henry frequented in the sixties still existed, and Vienna knew her way around the place. She made her way to the room with the newspaper archives, and when she got there, she was surprised to find rows of computers instead of cabinets.
"Of course," she mumbled.
She sat down in front of a computer and looked at her reflection. She rolled up her sleeves and tapped the screen. She waited. No response. She tapped the screen again. No response. She lifted the mouse and rolled the ball underneath. She pressed a bunch of keys.
“You need some help?” someone asked.
She looked up -- it was the man from the store.
"Oh, hi..." she said, "Yes, I do. How do you turn this thing on?"
She put the mouse down and began moving it in circles. She pressed the “enter” key several times. She tapped the screen four times.
He laughed, "They don't have computers in Greenland?"
Vienna froze again. She had no idea if they had computers in Greenland. She'd never been outside of the country!
"Not in my village," she said.
"That's crazy," he said, "I mean... crazy cool. These things are really bad for your brain, anyway. You're better off without them," he said.
"Well, I kind of need to look through the newspaper archives. Do you think you could help me?"
Vienna watched as he pressed a button on the back and the screen lit up in solid white. Her eyes widened.
“So, basically, I need to see every single cover page of the New York Times between September 13th, 1963 and now,” she said.
"Yes. But you don't have to do it the whole time. Just show me, and then I can do it myself."
"Okay," he said.
He explained how the mouse worked and showed her which symbols to click on in order to open up which programs and which pages.
"Easy enough?" he asked.
"Yes, thank you so much!" she said.
"Sure thing. Hey, I never got your name."
"Vienna. And yours?"
"Billy Joel," he joked.
"Well, nice to meet you Billy Joel, and I really appreciate all the help you've given me."
"Sorry, my name's not actually Billy Joel. It's Johnny. I was joking. Because of the song?"
She stared blankly at him.
"What?" she asked.
"You've never heard of the song 'Vienna' by Billy Joel?" he asked.
"Let me guess, they don't have music in Greenland either?"
"No," she laughed, "of course they have music. I've just never heard of the song."
"That's wild," he said, turning back toward the computer, "Okay... so what was the first date you said again?"
"September 13th, 1963."
As he tapped at the keyboard, Vienna thought of what she might see on the cover of the news pages - revolutions, protests, scientific discoveries, murders, deaths, and destruction.
"What are you looking for exactly?" Johnny asked.
"Oh," she started, "well... I have a grandpa who lives here. I'm just trying to..."
She didn't know how to explain herself. She gave up. She took a leap of faith.
"I'm just trying to find the headline that announces that he cured cancer," she confessed.
Johnny bobbed his head back in confusion.
"What?" he asked, "Cancer hasn't been cured yet--"
"Shh, don't spoil it!" she yelled.
Johnny glared at her, even more confused.
Suddenly, a big headline illuminated the screen.
“Boy Struck by Car and Killed In NYC,” it read.
“Depressing,” Johnny said.
“Maybe the next headline will be happier," Vienna consoled, "And I'm sure he cured something else."
Just as Johnny was about to exit out of the September 13th newspaper, Vienna stopped him.
“Wait,” she said.
She read the first couple sentences of the text.
“A young boy was struck by a car at 11:34 AM today while using the crosswalk between Vallerie’s Market and the Farmer’s Market. The car drove off and the suspect has yet to be found. Kid was said to have been living at the orphanage three blocks down 4th street. He had a marigold in his pocket.”
Vienna's heart dropped. Her mind went blank. She closed her eyes and saw millions of marigolds. She opened them wide and gasped. When she closed them again, she saw the single marigold she had given to Henry before departing.
“No,” she said.
“What?” Johnny asked.
Vienna couldn’t answer him. She stood up and started walking toward the exit of the library. She felt like she was going to explode. When she got outside, she fell to the floor and began sobbing. Henry wasn’t 77. He was dead. He didn’t live a day after she left. That’s why cancer was never cured.
Johnny continued reading the news article and tried to make sense of the situation, but he couldn’t. He ran outside.
"Hey... are you okay?" he asked.
She sobbed loudly.
“That was my best friend! I killed him!" she yelled.
"What?" he asked, "How could that be your best friend? That's an article from--"
She stood up and yelled, “They said he was from the orphanage! They said he had a marigold in his pocket! The marigold that I gave him before I left!”
“What does that mean? I don’t understand.”
“There's nothing to understand. I killed my best friend! I shouldn't be here," she said.
She got up from the floor and ran in the direction of the market.
All Vienna could think about was how reluctant Henry was to let her leave. How he wanted her to stay so badly. How he gave her all of the money he had. How he would’ve used that money to take the bus they always took from the market back to the orphanage. How he wouldn’t have died if she hadn’t left. And how she couldn't go back in time to save him.
She approached the crosswalk from the news article. Vallerie’s market plagued her with images of Henry, but there was no Henry in sight -- just the gravel, street signs, and marigold bushes that filled Vienna with guilt and regret.
“No-” she cried.
She fell to the floor once more.
“It didn’t happen. It didn’t happen. It didn't happen," she mumbled to herself as she rocked back and forth.
She wished she could reverse time and save him, but because she didn't have half of the time traveling power, she couldn't fix the mistake that the other half had caused.
She sat on the curb for what felt like an eternity -- or the amount of time Henry deserved but never got. Every five minutes, Vienna stopped crying. After about thirty seconds of silence, she'd start crying again. She felt as though she was reliving the moment she found out over and over again -- repeatedly realizing the devastating fate of her best friend, replaying the last moments she had with him, and reminiscing the life that she cut short.
About the author
Hi! My name is Leanne. I'm from Los Angeles, California. I'm a singer, writer, and actress. I currently attend the University of California, Santa Barbara. I'm double-majoring in Sociology and Film & Media Studies.