I awoke from a dreamless sleep and knocked my phone off the nightstand trying to turn the alarm off. What a fine start to the day.
My phone buzzed shortly after landing on the floor. I picked it up almost mindlessly and stared at the screen.
We hadn’t been to school in around six or seven iterations, I think.
“Morning. School or no?”
“Up to you.”
“I guess we can go today.”
I sighed and began getting dressed. For some reason, I felt a little more carefree this morning, like it didn’t matter what I wore or if I was a tad more reckless than usual. By this point, being carefree was a foreign feeling, and I struggled to think of what could be the cause.
Regardless, I had to get to school to meet Hay, so I continued my morning routine and wound up pulling into the parking lot just after her.
“You’re later than me.” She paused and cocked her head a little. “That’s…weird.”
“Yeah, I guess I dragged out getting dressed a little.”
Hay pulled out an oatmeal bar and began chewing her way through it. There was a 50/50 chance she’d have that oatmeal bar for breakfast while walking with me. She told me once that her hunger never varied, but her attitude toward when she got around to eating breakfast did. Translated, she didn’t want to do the same thing every day.
We walked toward the school building, past the crossing guard, and headed through the front doors. Right on time.
Mrs. Chen stood at the front of the room as usual, shooting us a quick glance as we stoically took our seats. The 7:45 tardy bell rang right on cue, and Mrs. Chen began taking attendance. Shockingly, no one was tardy or absent, and attendance went by quickly.
It was the first time I’d been to class in a while, but it was like I’d never skipped. I didn’t have to turn in a note from my parents, didn’t have to make excuses, and certainly didn’t care either way.
Seeing Mrs. Chen made me sad. Like, not in the way that death makes one sad, or in the way that a breakup can devastate a person. Rather, it was like her very existence angered me. She shouldn’t be there every day. She shouldn’t be there unchanging, unknowing every single day. I knew it wasn’t Mrs. Chen’s fault, but I wanted to yell at her and ask her why she couldn’t tell me what was going on. I wanted her to tell us why she didn’t believe us the first 30 times we told her what was happening to us, trying desperately to get advice from the only authority on science that we knew.
It made me sad that even if I expressed that anger to her, she’d just forget it all the next day and I’d be angry all over again. I couldn’t do anything about it. I had no outlet to channel that anger, so it just made me sad. And it drove me closer to breaking. Lately, it seemed that things like this would stack one on top of the other. A couple weeks of iterations would pass, and something that didn’t bother me before would slowly start to bother me. I was running out of options on what to do about it.
I instinctively stood up without any warning.
“Hey, are you-” Hay started.
“We have to go. Hay, I’m-”
“Excuse me, Brendon, is there a problem?” Mrs. Chen probably looked annoyed, but I didn’t even glance at her.
“Yeah, I have to go. Hay, can we please?”
The class started murmuring, but I barely paid attention to the looks of confusion and chatter that always happened when one of us did weird stuff like this.
Hay instinctively grabbed her bag and stood up.
“Brendon, Hayley, please sit down, this isn’t-”
“Sorry Mrs. Chen, we gotta go,” Hay said flatly. There was no point in sugar-coating it. If we had to leave, we had to leave.
It was yet another morning that I felt like I was going to break. These little things setting me off was dangerous. I’d have to stay home for a month’s worth of iterations to fix this, maybe even two. A week wasn’t nearly enough, clearly. It felt like my brain was melting in my head.
“Good morning students and faculty.” The morning announcements had started, but they were the least of my concerns. I grabbed Hay’s hand as gently as I could, in spite of my mental state, and rushed to the door.
“I will be reading the morning announcements today due to yesterday’s unfortunate events.”
I stopped cold in the doorway of the classroom.
“Brendon, Hayley, I will write you up for this if you don’t sit down right now!”
“I will be reading the morning announcements today due to yesterday’s unfortunate events.”
Principal Groves’ words echoed in my head. Was I going crazy? Did I hear him correctly?
I immediately started walking again, but this time, with a different conviction. The exit that would take us back to the student parking lot was to the right when leaving the classroom, but I went left.
The line that Groves repeated every morning was referring to the fact that Mrs. Daniels, the vice principal, had gotten into a wreck. She was fine, but she was out for a while and couldn’t do the morning announcements. We didn’t remember anything about the wreck from August 27th, but over the course of around 16,000 iterations of the same day, we’d had plenty of time to learn what the principal was talking about.
The wreck, however, wasn’t my concern at that particular moment.
“Where are you going? The lot is-”
“The announcement. You didn’t hear it?”
“I wasn’t paying attention, Mrs. Chen was talking to us and you were in such a rush.”
The office at the end of the hall was closed, but I pushed the door open without knocking. The secretary stared at us, a bit confused at first. Barging in wasn’t exactly normal.
“Can I help you?”
“No,” I said, walking past her. It was rude, but I didn’t care. Not right now.
“Excuse me! You can’t just go in there!”
I turned the knob to the office beyond her desk and pushed the door open. Principal Groves looked up from his desk, possibly a bit startled, but still displaying the dry, unamused look he always seemed to have on his face.
“When did you record the morning announcements?” My voice was unusually stern. I’m sure the principal wasn’t used to demands from students.
“What do you think you’re doing busting into my office like this?” he demanded in return. Groves was obviously angry, but the confusion that was mixed in seemed to be tempering what would otherwise probably be furor.
“Please, just answer me. It’s more important than you could possibly begin to imagine.”
“Yesterday evening.” He paused, looking almost shocked that he’d answered me. “Now can you please tell me what this is all about?”
“Can I see your notes from the recording? Where are they?”
He looked down at his desk, then back up at me. “Son, I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but you’re going to be in a heck of a lot more trouble than you’re already in if you don’t explain yourself.”
I walked over and grabbed the stack of papers on the corner of his desk that he’d briefly glanced at.
He yelled something at me. I didn’t care.
“Brendon, what are you looking for?” Hay asked.
The top paper was useless. Nope, not the next one either.
But then, I hit the jackpot. The third collection of stapled papers in the pile were his notes. They were messy, but they were what I needed: his script for the morning announcements, line by line. I’d always figured he had one, but it had never been worth looking into before that exact moment.
Right there at the top of the page were the words I was looking for: “I will be reading the morning announcements today due to yesterday’s events.”
“Yesterday’s events!” I shouted. “Why did you change it?”
“Young man, I don’t think you understand the seriousness-”
“Why didn’t you read the script word for word?”
The color drained from Hay’s face.
“What?” she said, her eyes wide in disbelief.
“In the announcements this morning, you added a word. You said ‘unfortunate events.’ That’s not what your script says.”
Principal Groves got up from his desk and gave me a death stare. “I don’t care what the script says! I’ve had it with you!”
“Something changed?” Hay said.
I stood there in as much disbelief as Hay was in, despite having heard the words myself.
“Something changed.” I muttered the words almost emotionlessly.
I didn’t have a clue what it meant, but I’d heard those announcements literally thousands of times.
Principal Groves began walking towards us, and suddenly I found myself being pulled out of the office by Hay. We ran side by side out of the building, possibly the first time we’d ever run in those hallways. I couldn’t remember for sure, but it was kind of weird to think about if true; two firsts in one day was far beyond unusual.
We didn’t talk, we just moved as fast as we could to our cars.
“They’re going to call our parents, we can’t stay at your house,” Hay said.
“I know.” This was too important, we needed to talk about this. We couldn’t get grounded. It just wasn’t an option. “Meet at the motel?”
“Yeah, see you there.”
It was only 10 minutes away, but the drive felt much longer. I was incredibly impatient; my head wouldn’t stop racing with questions. But, finally, I pulled into the parking lot with Hay just behind me.
“The motel” wasn’t code for anything. It was literally just some locally owned motel. A little nicer than some, but still a motel. I couldn’t remember why we were drawn to that particular motel of three that would let 18-year-olds check in, but it wasn’t like it mattered. We’d used it on a handful of other occasions that we just couldn’t be home, as much as we hated to worry our parents.
Hay and I rushed through the check-in process, and I paid in cash with the same bills that just reappeared in my wallet every morning; the very bills I’d used to buy literally thousands of other things. I guess it’s pretty fortunate I wasn’t flat broke on August 27th, otherwise we’d have to ‘steal’ money from our parents to do this kind of stuff, and that was one of those moral lines that was kind of hard to cross barring absolute necessity.
Much to the surprise of neither of us, we got room 105. It didn’t matter what time of day, it was like they saved room 105 just for us. I suppose it wasn’t a huge shock that they didn’t have a lot of customers that day. Not that there was anything wrong with room 105. Actually, it was close to the vending machines, and we didn’t have to climb up the stairs to the second floor, so it was pretty convenient that we always got it.
As soon as I’d closed the door behind us, all of the anticipation and anxiousness began pouring out.
“How the heck could the recording change?”
“I don’t know. Everything we know about how this system works is screaming at me that it’s not possible.”
“Everyone and everything resets at midnight, so if Principal Groves made the recording in the evening of August 27th, the recording wouldn’t reset – it’s totally unaffected.”
I sat down in one of the two chairs arranged around a small table by the window. Hay took the other chair, pushed her flats off with her feet, and sat cross-legged.
“We don’t know enough about the recording. Have we ever looked at it before?”
“I don’t think so.” I paused, resting my chin on my hand for a moment. “What format is it even in?”
“I always figured it was a DVD.”
“No, I think they just record the announcements with a basic point-and-shoot, so it’s gotta be a video file.”
“Could someone have altered the file?”
“Even if that were the case, we’d still be looking at an unprecedented situation.”
“If that video file changed, then other things can change. We have to figure out the cause.”
“I don’t even know where to start.”
“We start by finding and taking the video file.”
Hay arched an eyebrow at me. “How do you propose we do that?”
“I can do it. I just need some time to prepare, and a little help.”
“Anything. Name it.”
We spent the rest of the evening and night planning out our next iteration in the loop. We’d have to be late for school, and I’d need a distraction, but it could work. Maybe. And if it didn’t, we had an endless number of retries.
My parents had called earlier wanting to know where I was. I told them I was at David’s house working on a school project.
David, my best friend before all of this. David, now a complete stranger. To him, we didn’t hang out today at recess. To me, I hadn’t talked to him in a lifetime.
As it got later, we laid down on the bed and continued planning, but by that time, we were both exhausted. I fell asleep with Hay on my shoulder. It was the last thing I remember seeing before waking up again to my stupid phone alarm screeching in my ear.
If I could have one small wish granted in this hell of a world, it would be that if I fell asleep next to her, she’d be there when I woke up. It may seem small in the big picture, but I could never share a morning with the girl I’d loved for 40-something years. It was cruel to always wake up alone.