**Update** 06/19/2017 I won! This is the winning submission for the Lost in Space short story contest. I am thrilled and completely humbled to have won my very first competition.
This piece was written as my submission for the Lost in Space short story competition hosted by Floriopolis.
“I’m sorry, Detective Mackay, but there is no student with that name and birth date at this school.”
“You’re sure?” I knew I was pushing it, but I just didn’t understand how this could be possible. The large red-headed guidance counselor – whose faded name tag identified her as Ms. Simons, ‘Director of Guidance’ – breathed a loud sigh and pushed her glasses up her sweaty nose. She turned back to her computer and banged a few keys on the keyboard. I didn’t miss the longing look she gave the smut novel sitting on the other side of her desk.
“I am positive,” she said, turning back to me. “Would you like me to try an alternate spelling?”
“How many ways can you spell Peter Miller?” I asked. My aggravated tone was immediately greeted with a threatening look from Ms. Simons. I wanted to get right in her face and tell her that a young man, who at one point had definitely attended her school, was missing and I needed to find him immediately. I could tell, however, that she was done with me. My snark was delaying her precious alone time with Mr. Exposed Nipples on the cover of her book, the spine of which looked very well worn from many lonely afternoons.
“Well, if there’s nothing else I can help you with sir, I have work to do,” she said, placing her reading glasses on top of her head.
“Thank you for your time, Ms. Simons,” I said with as much appreciation as I could muster. I pushed myself out of the stiff office chair and made my way to the hallway. As I turned to shut her office door, I watched as the eager guidance counselor picked up her novel and reached into her desk drawer for a bag of spicy Cheetos. Work to do, indeed.
I pulled my tablet out of my bag to consult the case file as I walked through the school’s courtyard. Class wouldn’t be out for a few more minutes, so I decided to sit on top of a red picnic table and pull up the victim’s information. Peter Miller. He was currently a high school senior at Ridgemont High – or he was supposed to be, anyway. A quick glance at the sign in front of the building told me that I was in the right place. Peter was last seen at a local coffee shop after school on September 25th, 2028. I quickly opened the calendar application on the tablet to make sure it was in fact the 25th of September. Going back just a few days didn’t usually mess with my devices, but I checked anyway just to be on the safe side. I didn’t understand how there was no record of Peter being a student here. Peter’s parents had given me full access to all of his information, including Peter’s last school yearbook.
I had never had something like this happen on a case. Detectives of my kind were still fairly new since the discovery of time travel was only about a decade ago. Most cases were open and shut. Someone would go missing, get kidnapped, or even be murdered, and if their family had enough money, my firm would be contacted. We conducted investigations in the P.D., or present day, to find out when and where they were last seen and whom they were with. We would then travel back to the time of their last appearance, find them, and get them to a safe house until we were able to catch the perpetrator. The bell rang, bringing me out of my thoughts. I looked up as students began to flood the courtyard.
“Excuse me, what’s today’s date?” I asked a student who was walking by.
“Um, the 25th, I think,” he said while he pulled his phone out to check.
“Yes, but what is the year?” I asked as I looked back at my tablet.
The boy gave me a puzzled look. “Dude, it’s 2028,” he said with an eye roll as he walked past me while mumbling something about pot heads.
Dude, it was September 25th, 2028.
The day Peter Miller disappeared without trace.
One day before his parents had reported him missing.
Two days before they had reached out to me for my private detective services.
Three days before I would call Ridgemont High to confirm that Peter Miller was currently a student and had been in class on the 25th of September 2028.
I flipped through the file, and found Peter’s parking lot number. I hopped off of the picnic table with a new determination. I knew that if Peter was not a student on record he wouldn’t be parked in his spot, but I wanted to see who was.
I pulled into spot 74 and turned off my engine. Peter’s Jeep was supposed to be parked here for another 10 minutes at least, according to the time on my dashboard. I heard a voice outside my window and looked up to find a girl talking animatedly on her phone. I immediately recognized her, and smiled at my luck. This girl had to know Peter. Maybe she knew why he wasn’t a student here anymore, or where I could find him. Bethany Flemming, Peter Miller’s girlfriend. This bubbly girl with the contagious laugh has no idea that in just 48 hours she will be in my office crying, telling me about the last time she had seen Peter. She was the last person to see him at the coffee shop where they had met to study for a calculus test. She would look up at me through her tears, a look of vague recognition in her eyes. “You look familiar,” she will say with a croaky voice as she leaves my office. Even after 5 years of doing this job, it still gave me a thrill when someone subconsciously made a time travel connection.
Only our clients knew what we did; it’s one of our rules. Former clients were required to sign a non-disclosure agreement stating they would never reveal the identity of their investigator. We aren’t stupid, we know people talk. How else would we get work? Unfortunately more and more people were finding out about us and wanted to either join ranks or stop us. The ones who wanted to stop us posed more of a threat, obviously, because they were mostly the people who got caught.
I opened my door just as she hung up her phone call. I gave her a nod and a smile when she looked up at me.
“Excuse me, miss, who usually parks here?” I asked.
“No one. That spot has been empty all year,” she answered as she threw her book bag in the backseat of her car. This was getting stranger by the minute. How does she not know who Peter is? They had dated for two years and, according to his parents, Peter had wanted to propose once they graduated. I felt my heart begin to race as a million different questions flew through my brain. Where was this kid? Had someone completely erased his existence? Who would be capable of doing that? Someone with access to time travel. The idea that criminals were evolving to outrun us both terrified and excited me.
“Do you know a Peter Miller?”
I shouldn’t have asked that. It could risk too many things, but I couldn’t stop myself from blurting it out. Bethany thought for a moment before answering.
“I don’t think so, does he go here?” she asked.
“I thought he did. Thank you for you for your time.”
I gave her one final smile and turned to make my way back to my car. I sat and stared at my steering wheel as I contemplated the two possible courses of action I could take. One was to go back to the present and check all the facts with Peter’s parents – if they were still his parents, that is. The second was to go back to Peter’s birth date and make sure he was actually born. Having made my decision I reached over to open my glove compartment to get out my travel device when something caught my eye. There was a mark on the front of the glove compartment that I had never noticed before. I ran my finger over the mark, it was a scratch in the shape of an “F”. When I pulled my finger away from the scratch, another mark began to form. I sat back in my seat, unable to believe what I was seeing. I watched as the words “FIND ME” appeared in deep scratches across my glove compartment.