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  • William Bryan Smith

"I Hope Yesterday Will Be The First Time We Never Met", Part 1

He had not spoken to her since the French Revolution.

The spaces between the galaxies were long and dark. On this side of the universe, there were no galaxies and no stars and the craft was teetering on a ripple of spacetime that warped around them; on the other side of the universe there was nothing but black holes, gobbling up everything. When things grew tense between them as they now more frequently did, he liked to come here, to this moment, at the end of time—at the end of everything. It was how he liked to recalibrate, she reasoned. It was his way of centering himself. She felt it was morbid, despite the fact that everyone she knew and loved—every place that she had ever known including earth—had long since been destroyed. She felt it was morbid. She told him so.

He told her how irrational she was, as he often did, and it pissed her off, as it often did.

“What shall we drink?” he asked, changing the subject (as he also often did).

“Take me home.”

“The earth is a burnt cinder,” he said. “You know that. The Milky Way is gone, too.”

“Take me back to my time.”

“It’s my home, too, you know.”

“This is your home. Your favorite place. You take a morbid pleasure in seeing it all be destroyed.”

“There’s that word again. Morbid. 100 trillion years and you think your lexicon would have expanded to include a few new words, by now…”

“Fuck you.”

“You can take the girl out of Pennsylvania, but you can’t take Pennsylvania out of the girl…”

“You’re from New Jersey…at least that’s what you claim…”

“500 years ahead of you…but might as well be 14 billion years in evolution…”

And so it went on…beginning with the Storming of the Bastille when an insurgent complimented her frock as the invaders killed the Governor (though she knew the real reason for Bryce’s silent treatment of her, was that her name was ultimately included on the official list of vainqueurs de la Bastille and his wasn’t), through the assassination of Franz Ferdinand—until he briefly grunted at her at Les Deux Magots when she accidentally knocked over a Pastis reaching for a Gauloises and spilled the drink into Sartre’s lap.

“You don’t even know how to smoke!” he inexplicably blurted out now, at the end of the universe.

“Christ, you can’t let anything go…”

He shushed her.

“This is my favorite part.”

“You’re an insufferable assho—"

The fabric of the universe ripped; there was a cataclysmic brilliant flash of light—one last, final release of energy—and the universe was gone.

Ordovician Period

ca. 444 Ma.

“I should have never allowed you to buy me that drink,” she said.

They were standing in a mostly barren, craggy, dusty landscape of red rock.

“Where are we now?” she asked. “Mars?”

He said nothing. He pointed to a vent in the red rock where steam and hot water was bubbling up from the ground. Beside it was a hot spring.

She sighed, kicked some rocks around with her foot. She regretted going with him for so many reasons, not the least of them being the one-inch heels she wore from Nine West. In all the millennia of travel, she wasn’t able to find one women’s size 9 suitable for traversing spacetime.

She asked, “What are we evening doing here?”

“I showed you the end—”

“Multiple times…”

“Now I want to show you the beginning.”

“Big Bang?”

“Not that beginning,” he said, annoyed.

“If you showed me the end of time, it stands to reason that you’d show me the beginning of it—”

He turned sharply to her. “How can I show you the beginning of time using a time machine? We’d have to get there before time. It’s a time machine, Lydia. It moves between points in time…not before it.”

“Do you always have to be such a condescending dickhead?”

“You’re never happy with anything I show you! Christ. Can you even begin to grasp the key moments in history you’ve witnessed thanks to me?” 

“I’m the Sherman to your Mr. Peabody…” 

“You are the worst companion in the history of the universe…”

“Oh, don’t start with your ‘But I’m a Timelord, Lydia’ bullshit. You’re from Secaucus.”

He turned his back to her and began stalking the perimeter of the hot spring, his gaze cast down toward the water. It was in moments like this, she could push him into the spring and drown him, or knock him in the head with a stone—except for the fact he was the only one who knew how to operate the time machine gizmo. She tried to learn, tried to memorize the series of keystrokes that powered it on, that allowed him to key in coordinates and times. If she had, she’d have left his ass back in the Dark Ages.

“Ha!” he exclaimed.


He waved to her and pointed down at the water. 

“What is it?”

“Hurry… you’re going to miss it!”

“Damn you,” she said, scrambling for footing in her poorly-equipped yet fashionable shoes. When she finally reached him, she said, “What are you going on about—”

He pointed down at the water. What sort of looked like a shrimp-like creature poked its head out tentatively from the water and regarded them suspiciously. It sampled the air and seemingly found it satisfactory because it inched its way from the spring onto the rocky edge of the water.

“What is it?”

“Us,” he said. “What will become us…will become the human species and pretty much every other terrestrial animal…”

“That thing?”

She scrunched her nose.

“Try not to sound so impressed…”

“No… I am… it’s just… it’s kind of ugly…”

“You know what?” he said, visibly irritated. “Fuck it!” 

He raised his booted foot (a better footwear choice, for sure) and stomped on the creature, crushing it to death.

“Bryce! You’re… you’re so awful…”

She started to sob.

“Holy shit,” he said. “I’m sure it wasn’t our common ancestor… I’m sure another, better one will emerge… Why the hell are you so emotional today?”

“I’m…late…” she said, between sobs.

“For what?” he asked, trying to scrape off prehistoric millipede from the sole of his Doc Marten. 

“I’m pregnant,” she said.

The Vacuum of Space


“You’re so immature,” she said.

“Well, I am 500 hundred years younger than you,” he joked.

“What if what you did altered the course of—I don’t know—evolution?”

“If switching you out that one time for Da Vinci’s model for the Mona Lisa didn’t change anything—it still looked like the Mona Lisa when we went to the Louvre, didn’t it?—then obviously nothing we can do can change history. We’re from the future. Our traveling into the past had to be predicted and anticipated by the universe. All our shenanigans are baked into the temporal cake, so to speak. Also, I thought you were on the pill?”

He side-eyed her suspiciously.

“Don’t look at me like that. Of course, I’m on the pill.”

“Did you remember to take it?”

“Yes, Mister Inquisitor, I did.”

“Okay…not to sound like a dick…what happened?”

She recalled the time they were intimate in Red Square, circa 2049, at what would become the start of World War III and a 20-year nuclear winter when Bryce had her up against the hotel window as he tried to time his climax to the first mushroom cloud on the horizon (He had a strange fetish that seemed tied to complete obliteration). She was pretty certain that was the night they’d conceived. She told him.

“I suspect because we were in 2049, the efficacy of the birth control had effectively expired.”

“Jesus Christ.”

“Still want to marry me?” she asked, recalling another time—this time in the past—at Little Bighorn when he inexplicably dropped to one knee and proposed to her as legions of Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes rushed past them on their way to massacre Custer and his 7th Cavalry Regiment. She long-suspected the gesture was prompted by his smoking too much peyote they’d won in an exchange for a (fake) Rolex he’d impulsively bought in 1993 New York.

“Of course,” he said, but not sounding so sure of himself. “But hear me out. We can still get married—and not have the baby, if you’re even pregnant. They’re not mutually exclusive.”

“If I’m even pregnant? You think this is some kind of ploy?”

“That’s totally not how I meant it. I mean, it’s not like you took a pregnancy test. There are no Walgreen’s in the 19th century…”

“I know my body…”

“Sometimes late is just late—"

Stratford-Upon-Avon, England

Circa 1601

“How long have we been gone, anyway?” she asked.

She initially had tried to keep track of sleeps since days/nights/sunsets were meaningless when time-hopping, and her iPhone battery died at about the time the Knights Templar took up residence in Solomon’s Temple.

“Time’s an illusion,” he said, only half-listening.

They were situated in the corner of a rather lively inn, circa 17th century England. She wished someone had invented deodorant sooner.

“I need to know so I can figure out how late I am.”

He nodded toward a paunchy middle-aged guy scribbling away with a quill and paper while the rest of the smelly cohort made merry around him.


“It’s Shakespeare,” he whispered.

“Him?” she asked, incredulous. “I’ve seen pictures. That’s not him.”

“It’s him. The machine says it is.”

“He’s chubby.”

“Probably too much mead and mutton…or whatever they eat here.”

“My friends are probably worried about me,” she said. “They didn’t like the looks of you. Gwen pegged you for a creeper…”

“Think he’s writing one of his plays? Maybe a sonnet?”

After he’d bought her a drink that first night—a gin and tonic—she excused herself to the bathroom to pee and to make sure there wasn’t any remnants of Thai fusion in her teeth. He’d followed her into the ladies room of the Harrisburg dive bar and told her he was from the future.

“Shit,” she’d said. “Gwen’s right. You’re a creeper—”

Then there was a flash of light, an unsettling moment of no time where she found herself in a featureless void (later she’d learn it was a common effect of time-hopping), and then she was seated beside him, inside the time machine, or the “Time-Traversing-Unit” (“TTU” for short), which was not dissimilar to the space capsule used by the old Apollo astronauts. 

“You kidnapped me,” she said.

“Shakespeare is 10 feet away writing Hamlet, and you’re dwelling on how we met?”

“You don’t know he’s writing that. It could be his grocery list.”

Bryce hammered his metal tankard of ale against the wood of the table and called out, “Hey, Billy! Billy Shakespeare…”

The man looked up from his work.

“Settle a bet for us. What are you writing? Hamlet?”

The man’s eyes registered shock.

“Ah-ha!” Bryce said, drunkenly. He turned swiftly to Lydia. “See that? I told you!”

“You’re causing a scene…”

“Hey, Billy Shakespeare,” Bryce said, ignoring her. “How could you not know that Gwyneth Paltrow was not a man?”

“I’m leaving,” Lydia said, standing to go.

“Yeah? Where?”

“What does it matter?”

By his reasoning, if all of their actions were predetermined and “baked into the temporal cake” as he put it, it didn’t matter. He couldn’t leave her here even if he threatened to. She was wasn’t from this time.

He grabbed her by the wrist and said, “You’re being irrational…”

“That’s a good look. Maybe I’m being hysterical, too…”


“Keep going…you’re on a roll…”

About William Bryan Smith:

William Bryan Smith is a graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars and holds an MFA in Creative Writing & Literature. He is the author of five previous novels, the most recent, Free Range Men (Main Street Rag, 2014). His short fiction has appeared in such magazines and journals as Spectrum, The Bennington Review, Marrow, Close to the Bone, and Conte.

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