This is part one of a two-part short story.
Art was in the past. In the present, he’d been sentenced to fourteen days in jail for counting cards, which had struck him as a cartoonishly heavy-handed punishment. But he’d “gone quietly,” welcoming a break from his job and thinking what’s the worst thing that could happen in two weeks? Art was not a lucky person. He’d gone somewhat more loudly when a clever administrator had decided that the best way to deal with that stubborn overpopulation problem was to send prisoners permanently back to the twentieth century. Armed with little more than cigarettes and unwashed clothes, these transplanted criminals generally failed to convince anyone that they were from the future. But widely they had success finding employment as bankers and lawyers.
Art, though, first took time to do what anyone thrust into his particular situation would do. He wandered the rainy streets of whenever and wherever he was and wallowed in self-pity.
One such boulevard’s green sign proclaimed GRAND STREET. Art supposed it had been named ironically. As he shuffled down GRAND STREET, Art wondered if he should find someone authoritative and explain that he’d ended up in the twentieth century by mistake, and that he should be returned home as soon as possible. Surely they hadn’t meant to send a prisoner serving a two-week sentence back in time until he died. Art wondered if time travel had even been discovered yet, and whether that mattered, since it had been/would be discovered by the present. He realized that the people, whomever they were, who had unceremoniously dumped him in the past would not be born for a very long time.
“My presence here is a terrible accident!” He said aloud.
A passing woman nodded philosophically. “Best not to think about it,” she advised, and kept walking briskly away towards the GRAND STREET sign.
Art had never been lucky. He was the kind of person to whom dentists routinely said things like, “your teeth are immaculately clean. But due to circumstances beyond your control, that even we don’t quite understand, something is wrong and it will need to be painfully fixed.” As a human being Art was quite used to remedies being painful. He just seemed to need them more often than most other human beings.
Presently, in the past, Art was willing to endure a thousand excruciating dental operations to go home, but nobody was offering. He kept walking and kept looking down.
Among the cracks and leaves there was a winning lottery ticket, discarded as garbage by a would-be millionaire. Just as Art’s gaze approached the spot where the ticket lie visible, ready maybe to compensate him for a life of horrible luck, a boy sped by on a bike and a bag of newspapers smacked Art hard in the face. Art barely heard the receding “sorry” as he walked on.
Art wasn’t even the kind of person to count cards, of course. He’d done it on a bet, just to prove he could, and he’d been quite surprised with how well he’d done. Art considered himself a very talented individual, but his friends told him that all of his talents were practically worthless, and for the most part Art agreed. He could look at a clock and identify the time’s prime factors in less than five seconds. He could ride a unicycle. He was very good at crossword puzzles.
But Art worried that he was a person of trees that didn’t add up to a forest. He couldn’t tell you what it was like to love someone. He thought of dreams more as sleepy mental leftovers than as lofty aspirations. And if someone had asked him to describe himself, Art would have been at a loss for words.
It was gray outside, and Art figured it was gray inside too.
When I was about fourteen I decided to stop trying so hard to fit in. Since then, I haven’t had many friends. I suppose I’ve had more time to get to know myself, since there have been less other people to get to know. I’m decisive when I need to be, but I prefer to have some time to think before I do anything drastic. I don’t smile very often, because smiley people make me uncomfortable, and because I think a smile should mean something, and it means more when you save it for an occasion that truly deserves it. I enjoy numbers and the serenity logic can bring a person. I also love crossword puzzles; I’ve had a lot of time to work on those since I decided to be an individual.
Most people have some very important things they don’t want to tell anyone else about. And not like best friend’s secrets—personal, defining pieces of information. You wouldn’t even call them secrets, because it’s hard to explain why you don’t want to tell anyone, other than that piece of information is yours.
I have a piece of information like that.
It was because of me that a winning lottery ticket lurked pathetically among the sewer grates and wet leaves of GRAND STREET on the day Arthur Gordon arrived in the past. I knew that green slip of paper had the power to change my life, and that’s why I wanted it as far away from me as possible.
You understand why a piece of information like that is something I’d prefer to keep to myself. It’s hard to explain exactly why I found that lottery ticket as repulsive as I did. I felt like throwing it away, so I threw it away. My reasons are mine and I don’t want them not to be. Plus, people would think I’m an idiot for throwing away such a fantastic piece of luck, wouldn’t they? So I don’t want to tell anyone why I threw my winning lottery ticket to the ground on that rainy, dreary day.
Incidentally, I met Arthur Gordon that morning, although I didn’t know who he was at first. That morning, he was just another human being who thought he was here on earth by accident.