“Do you understand?”
Farkle Minkus worked for the Minkus Scientific Reserve. His father had hired him on after he graduated from MIT, with honors, and he was an excellent addition to the Reserve. He was brilliant, bright, and reliable.
“I understand, Zay.” Farkle stared at the latest invention, his eyes wide and smile growing. “I understand completely.”
“You must not ever interfere with anybody in the past.” Isaiah Babineaux, a new technician at the Reserve, looked Farkle dead in the eyes. “Do not tell anybody you’re from the future. Do not change anything. The course of history could alter completely.”
Farkle nodded. “Got it.” He took a step forward toward the glowing light. “Do I go?”
“We’ll bring you back soon.” Isaiah pressed a button. “Good luck, kid.”
“Thanks.” Farkle swallowed hard before stepping through the light.
The cars whizzed by at twenty-five miles an hour, the fastest they could go. Roads were dusty, people were dressed in clothing that covered their entire bodies.
Farkle’s eyes were wide as he stared at the scene that surrounded him. He grabbed a newspaper, inhaled the date. 1927. About ninety years in the past. He had actually traveled in time. Farkle wandered around, talking to nobody, avoiding contact with everybody, drinking it all in. A milkman here, an old grocery store of sorts there, people calling hello to each other. Everything felt so foreign, even though he was still in New York City. It was such a different time.
He stepped into a library and looked around. There were a few people milling about, but it wasn’t extremely busy. He picked up a book and…
Came back to the present. He sighed and looked at Isaiah. “Already?” Farkle asked.
“It’s been an hour.” Isaiah came over to give him a medical examination. “Tell me about it.”
Farkle sat down, let him worry over him, and told him about everything he had seen, heard, felt. He felt like he was in a daze. He had traveled in time. He had done it.
“Has my father been notified that it was successful?” he asked.
“Yes, he’s coming right now.” Isaiah smiled. “He’s pretty excited.”
“Is he happy?”
Farkle sighed. “Alright. Cool.”
Farkle made several other trips over the next two weeks. They were all random; wherever the light sent him, he ended up. It was always New York City, and the one constant was the library, which was always there, every year he ended up in, but the year was always different.
His favorite era was the sixties. He ended up in 1969 a few times, close to Woodstock and the gay liberation movement, and the library was always busy in that year. People wanted to read and soak up information, and, he guessed, destroy the patriarchy and all that good shit. He enjoyed that.
Farkle especially enjoyed the librarian’s assistant in 1969. Her long brown hair often covered her face, and the bright colors she wore did not always look good together, but she always had a smile, and often had a flower in her hair. He avoided talking to her, as his father reminded him not to do every time he went on a mission, but he always looked and payed attention to her.
“Was she there again?” Isaiah asked.
“Of course,” Farkle said as he debriefed on his latest mission.
“Did you talk to her?” Isaiah asked.
“Of course not.” Farkle rolled his eyes. “Not allowed.”
“Chicken,” he said.
Farkle snorted suddenly. Isaiah ‘Zay’ Babineaux and he had grown up together, and had been friends for years. They acted professional at work most of the time, but they were quite good friends, and often spent their free time together, and with their other friend Lucas. “I am not a chicken.”
“Lucas says you’re a chicken,” Isaiah said.
“Lucas says a lot of shit,” Farkle retorted.
Mr. Minkus cleared his throat. “Please continue telling us about how you feel. You’ve been traveling quite a bit through the light. Do you think it’s safe for people to go through?”
Farkle sighed inwardly. He had never meant to be a lab rat, but here he was. “I don’t know, Mr. Minkus,” he said, preparing to go into the rest of his debrief.
Farkle was back in 1969. He was rifling through some books, trying to breathe, trying to count his pulse, make sure it was safe to be there, when he heard, “Can I help you?”
Farkle froze. Nobody had spoken to him so far. He was almost convinced people couldn’t see him when he went back in time, but… He turned around and swallowed hard. “Hi, I’m just looking,” he said.
“You always look at different things,” The Girl said. Her hair was slightly curled at the bottom. “It’s interesting.”
“You’ve noticed?” Farkle asked.
“Of course. It’s my job. I always put away your books.” She tilted her head to the side. “Thank you for not reshelving, by the way. It’s how we get funding.”
“I know,” Farkle said. “You’re welcome.”
“I’m Riley,” she said, holding out her hand.
“Um, I’m Farkle,” he answered, taking her hand and shaking it. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“You, too,” Riley replied, her smile large and bright. “I’ve actually been meaning to meet you for a long time. You seem… not quite of this world.”
Farkle’s breath caught in his throat. “Oh, well, trust me, I’m definitely from Earth.”
“That sounds like something someone from Mars would say,” Riley said. Her eyes crinkled as her smile grew.
“I’m not an alien, I assure you,” he said. His own smile was getting ridiculously big.
“Not from Pluto? It’s my favorite planet,” she said.
Farkle raised his eyebrows slightly, catching himself before he informed her that Pluto was no longer a planet. “It’s a wonderful planet,” he ended up agreeing. He looked at his watch and bit his lip. “I’m sorry, I have to disappear,” he said.
“How mysterious,” Riley said cheerfully. “See you next week?”
“Hmm?” Farkle asked.
“You come in once a week, always at the same time.” Riley placed her hand on his arm briefly, before pulling back, leaving a warm spot on his arm for a moment. “So I’ll see you next week?”
“Sure,” Farkle said slowly. “Most likely, yeah.”
“Cool.” Riley grinned. “See you later, Mars Boy.”
“See you later, Pluto Girl.” Farkle took a step backwards before turning around and disappearing behind a stack, right before Isaiah pulled him back at the one hour mark.
“How’d it go this time?” Isaiah asked. He was alone this time.
“I think I need to go a few more times.” Farkle nodded to himself. “Definitely. Need to run some more tests.”
Isaiah’s smile grew and he winked. “Did you break the rules, Minkus?”
“Never,” Farkle said. “I would never.”
They grinned at each other.
“Hey,” Farkle said, leaning up against Riley’s desk. “How are you today?”
Riley looked up and smiled tightly. “Okay,” she said.
“Just okay?” Farkle asked. He glanced at his watch. Fifty-eight minutes left. “What’s wrong?”
“Oh, I just… fuck,” Riley said.
Farkle raised his eyebrows slightly. “Yeah?”
“Oh, I just…” Riley sighed and pushed the book she was reading away. “Sorry, my parents and brother died earlier this year, and it, you know, the pain never quite leaves.”
“Holy shit,” Farkle said. “Wow, I am so sorry.” He frowned. “Can I do anything for you?”
“I really just want to get out of here.” Riley stood up and looked around. “We’re fully staffed right now.” She held out her hand towards Farkle. “Come with me?”
Farkle frowned before taking her hand. “Let’s go.”
She led him out the door and into the bright sunshine, still gripping his hand tightly. “I don’t normally get this sad, but it’s been hard, especially recently, since… I mean, since my parents’ wedding anniversary is coming up, and they won’t be here to celebrate it. Only I’m here. I have nobody.”
Farkle sighed, squeezing her hand. “I don’t know how to help that.”
“Tell me about you,” Riley said. She placed her head on his shoulder.
Farkle felt a stirring in his chest but pushed it down, wondering instead how she could walk in that position. “Um, I’m Farkle, I’m twenty, I… live in New York. I like to read. Yeah, that’s pretty much all about me.”
“There’s got to be more, right?” Riley asked. “I mean, you’re not just an eighteen year old kid who likes to read. What do you like to do? Who are your friends? Any old flames? What do you think of the Beatles’ new music? Are you going to Woodstock? It’s coming up soon.”
Farkle paused, pulling Riley to a stop beside him. “It is, isn’t it? Hm.” He mused for a while about going to Woodstock, seeing the disasterous, epic concert in person, before continuing walking. “I’m really not that interesting.” Just a time traveling person from 2021.
“Tell me something,” Riley said.
“I, uh, work with my best friend. It’s fun. We’re scientists.” Farkle shrugged.
“That’s nice.” Riley smiled. “What’s their name?”
“Zay,” Farkle said. “Yeah, he’s awesome. We grew up together and now we get to work together.”
“What type of scientists?”
“Just, you know, testing all sorts of things. It’s fun, but hard to explain.” Farkle stopped at a food cart. “You hungry?”
She smiled and nodded.
“Oh, wait.” Farkle patted his pockets. “I don’t have any money.”
“Oh.” Riley checked her pocket and pulled out a few bills. “I’ve got it this time.”
Farkle smiled. “Cool.”
“Far out,” Riley said. Her eyes crinkled.
Farkle really liked that they did that.
They bought food and ate and walked for a while, stopping at a duck pond, looking at the clouds in the sky, just talking about books and ideas. Farkle had to be careful not to mention any twenty-first century knowledge, but it was fun, like a brain game for him.
His watch beeped and he glanced at it. “Shit,” he muttered. “I have to go.”
Riley bit her lip. “You sure?”
“Yeah, I’m positive.” He sighed. “I’ll see you again soon?”
“Yeah.” She nodded. “Of course. I guess I better go back to my job.”
“I guess.” Farkle stood up and let go of her hand. “Bye, Riley. What’s your last name?”
“Matthews.” Riley smiled up at him, her eyes still sad. “What’s yours?”
“Minkus,” he said.
She bit her lip and Farkle didn’t miss the mirth that leapt into her eyes. “Really?”
“Shut up,” Farkle said without malice. “I’ll see you later.” He took large strides away from her, around a corner just as Isaiah pulled him back.
Farkle walked over to the examination bench and just sat down for a while.
“Still pretty?” Isaiah asked.
“Mhm,” Farkle murmured.
“Still breaking the rules?”
Farkle rolled his eyes. “It’s worth it this time.”
“Alright,” Isaiah said. “As long as you’re sure.”
Farkle thought of long hair, of soft eyes, of a kind, broken heart, of a girl who wasn’t afraid to walk out in the middle of her shift because she wanted to be free for an hour. “I’m sure.”
The next three trips, Farkle found himself in different times. He sighed each time, and went to the library anyway, for consistency. It didn’t feel the same, though. It was always missing that bright light, the presence of someone he was quickly growing fond of.
Farkle sat at home, staring at Google, before sighing and typing in “Riley Matthews New York City 1969”. A few results that looked promising came up and he clicked the top link.
It was an article about when her parents and brother died, and how Riley was the sole survivor of that devastating incident. There were quotes from friends of the family, and a follow up article that had been removed. He exited out of that link and read another, one that did have the follow up article.
“Riley Matthews, daughter of Cory and Topanga Matthews, Disappears”.
Farkle’s eyes widen as he reads the article. Riley had apparently disappeared in the summer of 1969, causing only her boss at the library worry. The police never found any evidence of her. All of her stuff had been left behind, and she had never been found.
Farkle bit his lip and thought for a while.
“Riley,” Farkle whispered, knocking lightly at her desk.
Riley’s head snapped up and she hastily straightened her papers. “Hi, sorry, how can I help… Oh, hi, Farkle. Farkle Minkus. Who doesn’t exist anywhere.” She smiled.
“You looked me up?” Farkle asked.
“You’re very mysterious, Mars Boy,” Riley said. “I’m a librarian. Of course I looked you up.”
Farkle smiled at her, that warm feeling in his chest back again. “Okay, Riley. Um, I have to talk to you about something. Can we go somewhere private?”
Riley nodded slowly before standing up and leading him to a back room.
They sat at a desk in the back. Farkle drummed his fingers on the desk, one after another, over and over.
Riley just sat and looked at him, waiting, watching.
“So I’m from the twenty-first century,” Farkle said after a long silence.
Riley raised her eyebrows. “Yeah?”
“Yep,” Farkle said.
“What’s new in the world?” she asked.
“That’s it?” Farkle asked. “No, ‘I don’t believe it!’ or ‘That’s not possible!’ or ‘How are you not tell me?’ or anything like that? You’re just going to accept it at face value?”
“Originally I did believe you were an alien so it’s not that far off,” Riley said. She shrugged. “But really what is new?”
“We have machines that can research things for us, and machines that can send us back in time, and dance moves that are stupid as hell.” Farkle grinned. “Different slang. Shitty politics. God, the president before this one was absolute hell. Like, the shittiest president America has ever had.”
“Gosh,” Riley said, her eyes widening. “Ever? How bad was he?”
“Oh, bad,” Farkle said. “Really bad.”
“Geez,” Riley said.
They were quiet for a moment.
“Why’d you tell me?” Riley asked finally. “Doesn’t that create a paradox or something?”
“You’re pretty smart,” Farkle said. “Not a paradox, but a sort of time loop. And I told you because my father, who I work for, believes that this is probably my last trip. He thinks that if the technology hasn’t begun to wear on me yet, it’s probably safe for other people to use.”
“So he used you as a scientific experiment? What if you died?” Riley asked.
“I don’t know,” Farkle said. “What happens if you die in the past? I haven’t even been born yet.”
“Huh.” Riley was quiet. “So I won’t see you again?”
“I looked you up,” Farkle said slowly, suddenly nervous to approach this subject. “And you… Do you want to know what happens to you this summer?”
There was a long silence before Riley reached over and slowly wrapped her fingers around Farkle’s. “Tell me.”
“You disappear. Without a trace. Around this time, you stop showing up to work, and they look for you, but they never, ever figure out what happened to you. It’s the ‘Matthews Mystery’, according to the newspapers. People believed your family was cursed.” Farkle tightened his grip on her hand. “I figured that was my cue.”
“To do what?” Riley asked, her voice just barely above a whisper.
“Do you want to come with me? You’ve basically told me there’s nothing for you here. I would love to show you my world. I think you would fit right in. You could go to college, get a degree, do whatever you want. You could go to Europe, Asia, Africa, Antarctica even. You could learn to play the piano or join a marching band. Music is pretty good right now. I mean, generic pop is whatever, but music from now is considered classic and newer music uses a lot of similar themes.” Farkle bit his lip. “Do you want to come back with me?”
Riley stared at him, her eyes wide, her breathing shallow.
“Of course, you don’t have to, but technically, you do disappear this summer, so I was assuming that meant you would say yes,” Farkle said after a while.
She was still silent.
“Also, you have seven minutes to decide before Zay pulls me back for the last time,” Farkle said.
“I…” Riley shook her head, her daisy chain around her hair slipping a little. “I mean, sure?”
A weight lifted from Farkle’s shoulders. “Really?”
“Sure.” Riley stared at his face for a while. “Are there flying cars?”
He chuckled. “No.”
“People just haven’t invented them yet, I guess. There are electric cars, though. They’re pretty good for the environment, once you get past how bad they are to make.” Farkle stood up, pulling her with him. “We leave in five minutes. Do you want to tell anybody?”
“In the newspaper, nobody knew where I had gone?” Riley asked. “I don’t want to change history or anything.”
“Yeah,” Farkle said. “You’ll leave them wondering for the rest of their lives.”
Riley nodded before letting go of his hand and grabbing paper and pencil. She scribbled something quickly and took Farkle’s hand again. “There we go. I wrote that I loved them. That’s all I needed to do.”
He squeezed her hand back and they waited together.
Riley stepped out of the light and stared around the room, her eyes opened wide, her hair blowing slightly from the time travel portal. “Farkle, you were telling the truth. We’re in the future.”
Stuart Minkus frowned and walked towards them. “Farkle, what is this?” he demanded. “Why have you brought a person from the past?”
“Because it was in the newspapers,” Farkle said. “You know how I kept going back to the same year over and over? I did some research and this girl, Riley Matthews, disappeared on the last day I was there. So… I thought it through, logically, as you always told me I should, and brought her back with me.”
Zay grinned and shot Farkle a thumbs-up.
Stuart frowned at him. “Stop, Mr. Babineaux. This is unacceptable. You’ll have to take her back.”
“Can’t. It’s against the rules. She knows too much.” Farkle shrugged. “She’s stuck here.”
“Won’t anyone miss her?” he asked.
“No,” Riley said softly.
Stuart’s frown deepened. “Very well.” He waved a few people over. “You understand they will have to test you to see if the portal did any significant damage.”
“Yes,” Riley said, her voice still soft, her gaze still wide but steady.
“Alright. Here we go.”
Farkle squeezed Riley’s hand. “See you on the flipside,” he said. “I’ll explain that term later.”
She smiled weakly at him before being led away by medical professionals.
Farkle walked over to Isaiah. “So?”
“Hot,” Zay said.
“God,” Farkle muttered.
“Good job, man. Way to catch the girl.”
Farkle grinned at him. “Shut up, Babineaux.” He quickly sobered when he saw his father walking towards him. “Here comes a lecture.”
“Bye,” Zay said, quickly walking away.
Farkle sighed and steeled himself for the lecture, reminding himself that it would be worth it. It would.
“This is amazing!” Riley said two weeks later. She was spending time with Farkle and his friends – Lucas, Zay, Maya, and Isadora. They were all playing different board games that weren’t around when Riley was growing up. “I love Life.”
“It’s pretty fun,” Farkle agreed.
“We should play Monopoly later,” Smackle suggested.
“No!” everyone chorused. “No, no.”
Riley laughed. “I love this time. Everyone here is so passionate about everything.”
“Wait until you get a Facebook,” Maya said. “Then you’ll see real passion.”
“You’ll start to hate it,” Zay said. “Trust me.”
It had been two weeks of intensive testing and frantically trying to get Riley a modern identity, but now they all had the chance to just relax. Farkle hadn’t seen Riley so happy, never. He felt proud to have brought that happiness to her. He reached out and took her hand.
Riley smiled at him and his chest glowed again, that warm happiness that made him feel a little giddy. He kept feeling this, over and over, whenever he saw her, and wasn’t as afraid of it as he had been before when she was a girl from 1969.
“Get married,” Riley announced after landing on her square. “Can I have a female bride?”
“I mean, if you want,” Farkle said slowly, his hope starting to fade a little bit.
“I just think it’s cool that you’re all so cool with it.” Riley smiled at him. “But I definitely want a husband.”
Farkle couldn’t stop the stupid grin from appearing on his face.
“Oh, god, stop!” Zay exclaimed. “Stop stop stop!”
Riley stuck her tongue out at Zay.
“Seriously, you two, you need to ‘get a room’,” Smackle said, using air quotes to accentuate her statement. “Please.”
Everyone laughed. Farkle threw popcorn at all his friends. Lucas caught a piece in his mouth and everyone cheered.
Riley beamed, and Farkle beamed because of it.
He had made the right choice. Thank goodness he had been sure.