All Kinds of Time
by Matt McHugh
Matt McHugh was born in suburban Pennsylvania, attended LaSalle University in Philadelphia, and after a few years as a Manhattanite, currently calls New Jersey home. Website:mattmchugh.com
“Hello? Am I coming through?”
What the hell was that? “Green one, hut!”
“Eddie? Are you hearing me? I need you to look at the scoreboard.”
What’s going on? wonders Eddie. Is there a speaker in my helmet? “Green two. Slant one! Hut!”
Eddie looks up, sees the score, the clock.
“OK, good. It’s the Michigan game. Sophomore year. Fourth quarter. Down by five. Forty-seven seconds to go. Perfect. Go ahead and take the snap.”
Eddie shakes off the voice in his head. He crouches down, hands between the center’s legs. He checks for the blitz, then calls it.
“Hut two! Hut Hut!”
He feels the leather thud into his palms, grips the ball and pulls back, fingering the stitches.
Every quarterback knows the feeling of time slowing down. It is, in fact, a very real phenomenon. Adrenaline. Endorphins. Hyperventilation. With every sense operating at peak, every moment is elongated. But this was different.
Beyond all doubt, the world was actually decelerating, like a film coasting to a stop. He watches guards and tackles collide, glacial puddles of chilled molasses.
“Eddie, listen. I’m you. Your future self in about thirty years. I’m connecting via neuroquantum chronopositry, reaching back in time to communicate with a former brain-state of myself. Don’t worry about the details. And don’t worry about the game. You’ve shifted to a continuum where 4-D displacement is roughly one-percent of your perceived normal. You’ve got a minute before your receivers even cross the line of scrimmage. We have time to talk.”
“Who are you?” asks Eddie.
“I told you, I’m you. Eddie Cochrane, second-string quarterback for the Cooper State BlueHawks. When you were fourteen, you cut out pictures of Natalie Portman and stuck them on Penthouse Pet bodies, then burned them so no one would find out. You need more proof of something only you know?”
“What’s happening? What do you want?”
“Listen carefully. Even though your time-experience is altered, I’m using a lot of energy to open this connection, so I can’t keep it up forever. If you make this touchdown pass, your scholarship is extended. You drop out of engineering, major in business, and become a first-string starter next year. You go pro after graduation. Good career. Twelve years. Two NFC titles. I won’t spoil anything about rings but let’s just say you buy a couple of mansions with sneaker endorsements alone. But none of that happens unless you make this pass. You ready to listen to me?”
The experience was as surreal as any he had ever known—and Eddie strongly suspected he’d been sacked already and would wake up on a stretcher—but he found no reason to argue with the voice he recognized as his own.
“What do I do?”
“OK, so fake to the halfback as planned, and roll right for the play action. Good. Now, here’s the tricky part. I want you to stand tall, fake like your starting a flea flicker. Big, two-handed lateral—really sell it. Make sure they see the movement, but not the ball.”
“The nose guard has broken through,” says Eddie, watching the 250-lb tackle coming on like a battering ram.
“Don’t worry about him,” says older-Eddie. “You’ve got time.”
“He’s right on top of me!”
“Spin. Pivot on your left foot. All the way. Let him slide past. You can do it easily on this timescale. Yes, it’s cheating, but don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
“OK, he bounced off my shoulder. That was close. Now what?”
“Keep one eye on him. He’s going to try to turn. Look downfield. Do you see Darryl?”
“I do. He’s running on the outside.”
“That wasn’t the play,” objects Eddie. “I was supposed to screen to the left receiver.”
“Trust me. He’ll turn in time. Pump it hard, right to the end zone.”
“Are you sure?”
“As sure as you’ve got a thing for Padme Amidala. Do it. And watch out for that guard on your left.”
Eddie doesn’t think. Years of muscle memory kick in. Being six, when his father first discovered he had a son with a right-arm thunderbolt. Holding the Pee-Wee, Midget, and Junior trophies high over his head. Sitting on the shoulders of his teammates, a high-school superhero at the state championship. It all converges as Eddie fires a bullet that threads the needle of outstretched defensive hands. He sees Darryl look over his shoulder as the ball descends. In his peripheral vision, Eddie catches the nose guard bearing down and straight-arms him away.
Even in the slow-motion, he has barely an instant to register the middle linebacker he’d missed before he’s flattened.
Eddie wakes on the ground, his head ringing, his knee bent sideways at a hundred-and-twenty degrees.
“OWW!” he screams, as much in rage as agony. “What happened?”
“You got hit,” says his other self. “Wedged between the guard and linebacker, you came down twisted. Separated shoulder, and that knee will never be right again. Plus, you overthrew Darryl. Your football career’s done. Sorry about that.”
“You’re going to stay in college, Eddie. You’re going to switch from engineering to theoretical physics after a lecture on loop quantum gravity. You’re going to develop the chronopositry technique I’m using right now to speak to you. None of that would be possible if you stay in the game. The world needs a humbled Edward T. Cochrane, Ph.D. Not one more cocky pigskin tosser. You’ll understand when the aliens show up.”
“Aliens! What the hell are you talking about? What did you do to me, you bastard!”
“I understand, Eddie. Really, I do. If it’s any consolation, if you go pro, you wrap your vintage Lotus Esprit around a Malibu signpost in a coke haze at forty-three. The other way, on the interview circuit after winning a Copley and a Nobel, you meet Natalie Portman. She’s really cool. You’ll see. Anyway, I know this is tough right now, but hang in there. Don’t worry. You’ve got time.”