Excerpt for Iterate by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Iterate

By Philip DiStefano


































































Iterate by Philip DiStefano



© 2018 Philip DiStefano



All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher, except as permitted by U.S. copyright law.

Chapter 1 – Repeat


Islammed my hand into my phone, groggily trying to silence the obnoxious alarm that was ringing in my ear. My mornings were a continuous loop of dreaming about smashing my phone to bits, but not actually doing anything other than lying there, glad that I could at least make it shut up. The first two or three hundred times this had happened, I schemed up ways to turn the alarm off, but I’d long since given up.  I still thought about it often, but it seemed like I was doomed to wake up at 7 AM for all of eternity.

After I spent a few moments staring at the ceiling, my phone buzzed with a notification. My hatred for the device’s very existence immediately ceased.

"You up?"

"Yeah.  Going to school today?"

"Unless you have a better idea."

"I don't.  See you there."

Hayley was my only real friend.  I had other people I called friends, but it was an act.  Every time I talked to them, I broke out the same tired lines that they expected. I pretended nothing was wrong – like I was the same old Brendon they’d always known.

I threw on a pair of clothes that I hoped I hadn't worn yesterday.  Khaki shorts, a bright blue t-shirt, black Vans.  I doubted anyone would say anything if this was the combination from the day before, since no one ever had.

There were days that I cared about school, and there were days I didn’t.  A completed homework assignment was in my bag, just like every morning.  I knew what it was because it was always the same, but I couldn’t remember the teacher assigning it.  Today, I wasn't in the mood for school.  I was hoping Hay would tell me to meet at her house, but after a while of doing that, a bit in my brain flipped, and going to school became the more interesting thing to do.

My car had a quarter tank of gas.  Sometimes I needed to fill it if Hay and I decided to take a trip, but usually the quarter tank was enough.  School was a mile away, and traffic wasn't bad.  I guess I was lucky in that regard.  If traffic were bad today, it would be bad every day, and going to school would be a 20-minute affair instead of a five-minute casual drive.

I took my usual spot in the student parking lot, then leaned against the trunk of my car to wait the normal minute and 30 seconds for Hay to show up.  She was always on time, despite her being the only variable in my life.  Funny how that worked, but it was for the best.  If Hay wasn't dependable, I'd have gone mad long ago.

"Hey, Brendon."

"Hey, Hay."  The first handful of times I'd greeted her in this way, she rolled her eyes at the corniness, but it had been forever since she'd so much as batted an eye at it.  Other people in our class always had the same reaction, though.  Laughs, giggles, eye rolls, surprise.  I was used to it.

She took her bag out of the back seat and handed it to me.  "Hold this for a sec?"

"Sure."  I took the bag and watched as she reached back in her car and pulled out another bag.

"You brought your laptop?"

"Marty's class."  Ah, Mr. Martin Randal, our 3rd period English class.  He always leaves the room ten minutes after class starts and comes back 15 minutes later.

"Oh, that puzzle game again?"

Hay had done this before, but it had been a while.  Marty would leave class, she would pull out her laptop and start a new game.  Her objective was to progress as far as she could before Marty returned.  Having that particular game already on the laptop was a blessing and a curse.  The game consisted of solving various puzzles in a 3D space, and if you played the levels enough times, you could complete them almost robot-like.  

In turn, Hay got faster and faster at completing the levels, but the game had little to no variance in the beginning, so after playing it a certain amount of times, it became less fun.  For that reason, Hay had come up with this meta-game of trying to complete as much as possible before Marty returned.  It was less about playing the game itself and more about the concept of beating her own record.

I carried Hay's regular bag since she had the laptop.  She offered to take it back, but I refused.  This situation had probably played out before, but in the context of a regular day, many situations often repeated themselves.  It was only natural.

She glanced at me.  "You gonna do a bathroom break for second period today, or should I?"

"I will."

It was the only class we didn't have together.  Not being with Hay during second period was lonely – a feeling she reciprocated – so we took turns coming up with excuses to leave our own class, then go and sit in on the other's class.  Usually we took bathroom breaks or said we were sick.  Either excuse always worked without fail.  There was no real reason to switch them up other than that we wanted to.

We walked past the crossing guard that guided us safely across the somewhat busy two-way street every morning.  He smiled and nodded at us, and I flashed a quick smile in return.  My interactions with most people had become like this, except the times I was particularly frustrated.

The bell rang right as we walked into the school yard, which signaled students to head to homeroom.  We timed it like this on purpose.  There was no point in arriving early, and there was no way we'd be late.  We had things like that down to a science.

Homeroom was with Mrs. Chen – a fact I'd be forever thankful for.  Mrs. Chen had been married exactly three weeks ago, if you were to look at a calendar.  She’d gotten back from her honeymoon exactly two days ago, a fact I only knew because in about 15 minutes, she'd show us a slide show of herself and her husband, and then tell us about Hawaii, how wonderful it was, and how she's still floating even though she's back to reality.

In short, her mood was as good as it would ever be, and she was already a nice person to begin with.  It was the most opportune time to get away with anything I wanted to do, which was, namely, sleep.

We took our time walking across the school yard – an open space with the building surrounding it like a horseshoe.  The line to get through the doors and into the building was long, so there was no point in rushing; we'd make it in time anyway.  Strolling down the hall brought us right through the middle of the Locker Graveyard, as we called it.  Walls and walls of the things, a staple in high school movies, completely unused.  All of our books were digital, so lockers were simply unnecessary. It was strange in a way – or at least, it used to be – but I'd certainly rather carry an eReader or tablet that weighs less than a pound over 10 or more pounds of heavy books.

My desk was next to the wall when you walked into the classroom.  Hay's was behind mine.  Brendon Walker, Hayley Wilson – it was like that in every class since they all had assigned seating in alphabetical order.  It was a stroke of the most fortunate luck we could have, I guess.

We took our seats, a few seconds passed, the clock struck 7:45, and the final bell rang.

Homeroom was 10 minutes long – five for attendance and settling in, and the other five for morning announcements.  Mrs. Chen quickly went through attendance since every seat was filled except for the two behind Corey Yates, which were extra, and thus always empty.

"You plan on having any fun today?" Hay whispered.

I shrugged.  "Haven't decided yet.  Later, maybe."

"Gonna try to sleep again, huh?"

"After the slideshow."

"I don't know how you manage to sleep like that."

"I don't know how you manage to have so much energy."

Mrs. Chen’s classroom was setup like pretty much every other classroom in the school – whiteboard up front, teacher’s desk on the left, and a small table on rollers that also functioned as a podium, for teachers that liked that sort of thing. Mrs. Chen didn’t, but she left it in the front of the room for whatever reason.

There was also a TV mounted above the whiteboard, which turned from a blank screen to the school logo right on cue, then promptly displayed Principal Groves’ familiar face.  Mrs. Daniels did the announcements before he started doing them, and judging by his body language and general temperament on camera, it didn't see like a responsibility that he was happy to assume.

"Good morning students and faculty.  I will be reading the morning announcements today due to yesterday's events."  He shuffled some papers on the desk in front of him, then continued in his usual overly-rehearsed tone.  "The PTA meeting next week has been postponed until the end of September.  Though emails have been sent out, please let your parents know if they're in the PTA."  More paper shuffling.  "Lunch in the cafeteria today will be chicken tenders, tater tots, fruit salad, and choice of milk, juice, or water."

Hay poked me, and when I turned around, she pointed her finger at her tongue and made a barfing sound.  I'd taken to skipping lunch, although sometimes I brought something to eat or at least pick on.  Hay usually never made anything more complicated than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, so when she grew tired of that, she’d try the cafeteria lunch for a while.  She'd gone back and forth like that for as long as I could remember, and she was currently on the PB&J half of the cycle.

"Eventually you're going to start skipping lunch too."

"No way," she practically snorted.  "Food is life."

"If you weren't rotating between chicken nuggets and peanut butter, I'd be less tempted to argue with you."

“They’re tenders, not nuggets.”

"Brendon, Hayley, pay attention to the announcements," Mrs. Chen said.  I think at one point in our lives, getting scolded like that would've made us both turn beet red, but we were long past that.

"Sorry Mrs. Chen," we replied in deadpan unison.

The announcements we'd talked over were about homecoming and a parking lot rule reminder.  Nothing important, considering we’d heard them before and they would probably never apply to us.

"...stay between the lines and hang your parking tag from your rearview mirror where it is easily visible."  Mr. Groves did one final shuffling of papers.  "Lastly, please remember to silence all portable electronics while in class, and remember that no personal devices are allowed out except during breaks or when otherwise permitted by teachers.  Now, everyone get ready to focus on learning, and have a great day."

The broadcast ended, and Mrs. Chen grabbed the remote for the TV, switching it to the input that was connected to her computer.

"Alright class, this morning we're going to start off with a little personal show and tell.  I wanted to share a few pictures from my honeymoon in Hawaii."

Right on schedule.

The first picture appeared on the TV. It was Mrs. Chen and her husband standing atop a cliff, the backdrop painted sky-blue, slowly melting into ocean.

"Mrs. Chen, he's so handsome!" Hay whispered mockingly, just loud enough for only me to hear.

"Mrs. Chen, he's so handsome!" Emily exclaimed.

"Thank you, Emily!  I most certainly agree."  Mrs. Chen was beaming.  She had a connection with the class that a lot of teachers failed to make, I think mostly because she was 26 years old.  I guess eight or nine years is a long time to everyone else, but my intuition said Mrs. Chen still related to the students because she still could easily look back on her high school days.

The presentation continued with a few more cliff side pictures, some of the couple hiking, two near a waterfall, and a beach picture that I swear Mrs. Chen only included because of how proud she was of how she looked in that two-piece bikini.  Some of the other guys in class would make comments about it later.

"Alright, now, let's go ahead and pick up where we left off on our discussion of the eukaryotic cellular structure."  She switched the presentation from her bikini picture over to a PowerPoint that was actually relevant to class, then grabbed a dry erase marker.  "Yesterday, we covered the energy center of the cell, an organelle known as the...?"

A few hands shot up.

"Jason?"

"Mitochondria."

"Correct, excellent."  She drew a very poor sketch of a cell and added the mitochondria, then added some squiggles, pointed to it, and said, "Today we'll be looking at the endoplasmic reticulum."

Because the next slide had a cell cross-section on it that was much more detailed than she could've possibly drawn, there was absolutely no point in her drawing the cell.  Mrs. Chen did unnecessary stuff like that, and like showing us her honeymoon pictures.

However, "endoplasmic reticulum" was my cue to try and get some sleep.  I rested my head against the wall to my right, rubber-banded my pen to my thumb and forefinger, and deliberately let some of my long-ish hair fall into my eyes.  It was a completely dumb plan.  Sometimes it worked for a whopping two minutes, sometimes it worked for the rest of the period.  It depended entirely on when I fell asleep and how I shifted while sleeping.

"Why do you even come to school if you're just gonna go to sleep?" Hay whispered.

I didn't answer.  She already knew the answer anyway.  I'd tried skipping first period before to sleep in late, but once the alarm goes off, I just can't go back to sleep.  Ironically enough, listening to this boring lecture on endoplasmic reticulum was the only way I could get some shut-eye.

Plus, even if I was asleep, it was nice knowing Hay was around.

I jolted awake as the bell for second period sounded repulsively in my ears.  

"Whoa,” I muttered.

"Did you sleep through the whole class?" Hay asked.

I nodded and rubbed my eyes.  Honestly, I'd found it to be about 20:1 odds that Mrs. Chen would wake me up within 15 minutes.  I'd gotten really lucky today.  This meant I'd finally have a day with a bit more energy than usual.

"Huh, well, glad it worked out."  She stood up and pressed her skirt down where the edge had flipped up.  "See you in Mr. Dolman's class, right?"

"Yeah. See ya."

She bent down and kissed me on the cheek, which was at least one thing that didn't get old.

She smiled.  "Later."

I watched Hay walk out of the classroom and sighed, mentally preparing for the conversation Brent had with me at the end of every class.  He sat right in front of me, so he often overheard our conversations.

"Whoa, are you dating Hayley?" he exclaimed.

"Yeah," I said, picking up my bag off the floor.

"No way, I've never even heard you talking with her before today."

"We've been dating for a while."

"It couldn't be longer than a few weeks, could it?  Didn't she just-"

"We've known each other for a long time."

I began walking toward the door, ignoring Brent in the way that I typically did when people inquired about Hayley and me.  No one could understand the situation we were in.  They wouldn't even believe me even I told them – which, trust me, I've tried – so there was no point in repeating myself even more than I already did.

"Dude, I am so jealous."

I kept walking.  "Yeah, I gotta go though, later Brent."

"You better give me more details tomorrow!" he shouted.

The words stung in my ears, just like they always did.  No matter how I steered the conversation, it always led back to him finding out that Hay and I were dating, and he always asked for more details tomorrow.  I'd had the conversation with him how many times – tens of thousands?  I tried to keep count at one point, and I know it reached at least 2,000 before I gave up.  Last I asked, Hay said it was 15,457, but it had been a while.

Every day I woke up to August 28, 2018, and no one but Hay remembered.  To my classmates, to my family, to my friends, it was just another day.  Tomorrow was a day away rather than a foreign concept.  My tomorrow was today, over and over and over again, for what was at least 42 years.  Probably 43 or 44 by now, since I didn't ask Hay that often what the count was.  We'd spent a lifetime as 18-year-olds, surrounded by clueless peers, in a situation we'd long given up escaping from.

Brent couldn't possibly understand how those words stung, yet I was subjected to them every single time I went to school.  My only option was to grin and bear it, so just like every day, I turned and smiled through my despair as I faced him from the doorway.

"Yeah, Brent.  I'll tell you tomorrow."

Chapter 2 – Memories

When you recall a memory, you're actually recalling the last time you made that recollection.  It's how memories can change over time – or, at least, that’s one theory I’ve read.  When every day is the same, those memories become tangled up in ways that are nearly impossible to describe.  We'd skipped school and driven to the beach many times, but when was the last time?  Without the concept of days of the week and unique events occurring on those days, everything just melted together into a giant pool of inseparable recollections.

Sometimes I didn't know if a memory I had was before the iterations began or after.  I knew that Hay had just moved to town – not because I remembered it, but because she did. Before August 28th started repeating, we didn't know each other, but she was apparently in my class. I knew for certain that on iteration number two, we figured out that it was only the two of us that retained our memories iteration to iteration. It was within the first week that we started calling them “iterations” rather than “repetitions,” but I couldn’t remember why.

I also knew that it took about half a year's worth of iterations for us to start dating. At least it was easy to remember our anniversary.

Sorry, that's a little of my hopelessly depressing humor for you.  I have to find comedy in our tragedy sometimes to keep sane.

Other than important things like that, it was very difficult to keep track of what happened when.  Notebooks reset at 12 AM.  Computers, phones, whatever – it all reset at 12 AM every day.  Anything we recorded onto any medium during the day was wiped out of existence. No matter where I was, no matter what I was doing, when the clock struck midnight, I blacked out, and upon waking, I was in my bed, and it was August 28th again.  And the stupid alarm on my phone was going off.

If events were unique enough, which was rare, they usually stuck better. Some didn’t involve Hay, but most did. For those, I could usually at least put a descriptor on them.  Like, our first kiss was a very, very long time ago.  That talk we had about us never being able to have kids...at least 10 years’ worth of iterations ago.  Maybe 20.

Okay, so maybe I couldn't be that descriptive. But anyway, perhaps it’s best to say that if it was something about Hay, I’d probably remember. If it was something I did with Hay, well, those were the tricky ones.

The point I'm trying to make is that our memories are patchworks of events grafted together from various iterations of August 28th, and then a smattering of important things from before that.  I knew my parents, of course, and I remembered things that I’ve always known, like their birthdays and favorite meals, but I have no idea what happened on August 27th, or August 26th, or really any other recent date leading up to the 28th.  

What’s perhaps even wilder is that when we tried to jog our memories and figure out what happened on the 27th by looking on social media and various news sites, we found that posts and news stories from today were the only ones that existed. On Twitter, when you reached 12:00 AM in your timeline and kept going back, it just ended. All news articles on mainstream news sites were from the 28th. Sections containing yesterday’s headlines were either blank or repeats of headlines from the 28th.

Really, my only memory of the day before this all began was that it was just another mundane school day.  Hay remembered it the same way, but honestly, neither of us were sure that we weren’t misremembering.  We could patch together a few things about August 27th based on the many iterations of August 28th and the thousands and thousands of chances we'd had to ask people about the day before, but we had no way to record any of it.  Important details we could commit to memory if we really tried, but only by rote memorization.  Any memories of less importance that we didn’t at least occasionally recall were doomed to get lost in the ether.

The most frustrating thing about trying to remember August 27th was that we didn't know if there was even anything important about it.  The one thing we did have was time, so we tried for many years’ worth of iterations to figure out what could've triggered the repetition of this day.  The fact that I was sitting there in Hay's second period class should tell you just how successful we were.

I hadn't even bothered going to my second period class to fake sick or ask to go to the bathroom.  I just walked into Hay's classroom and announced that my teacher had to abruptly leave, and I was being dispersed to this class.

Voilà.

It was rare that a class was dispersed, but if a teacher was unable to make it to school at the last minute and there was no chance to get a substitute, that’s what happened. No one questioned it.

"Hey, Hay," I said as I sat behind her.  Rodney Tillerman snickered at my greeting – just like he'd done thousands of times.  I barely even heard him anymore, as I'd trained myself to just ignore it.

"Hey Brendon."

Our greetings had gradually become very concise.  We used to make more small talk; tried the standard goofy greetings, made jokes like "long time no see," even though I just saw her three minutes ago and spent almost every waking hour of my life with her.  But in an abnormal situation like ours, those societal norms just sort of faded into the background.

Mr. Dolman taught Hay's civics class.  He was really awkward, or at least, he seemed that way to me.  I'd lived more days than he had for sure, but his days were real days that he could spend learning and growing in the ways that people are supposed to.  I didn't have that luxury, despite my mind's age being somewhere around 60 years old.

One of the interesting things about repeating days is that you can do anything you want.  There were no consequences to skipping school, cursing at a teacher, stealing a car, burning a pile of money. Absolutely none of it mattered as soon as the next iteration came.  In one iteration, I even broke an arm to basically no fanfare but a few hours of pain.

Having no consequences to my actions had made me more confrontational.  I mean, I certainly wasn't worried about appearances, so there was no reason not to do and say exactly as I wanted, except that Hay would hear it.  Having her kept me in check.  If I did something awful, she'd probably always remember it, so I tried not to do awful things.  

It may sound terrible, but being stuck in this God-forsaken loop did a number to my senses.  There were iterations where it wasn't easy to hold back from raging at people all day long.  But even if other people didn't remember it, we would, and if we ever escaped from this time loop, we'd have to live with whatever we did while we were in it.

We may have been barely hanging on to our sanity, but our humanity was firmly in place.

However, confrontation wasn't necessarily an evil or even bad thing.  Argumentative, maybe, but it could just be a squaring off of the minds.  Or so I told myself.

There were some iterations where I argued with various teachers.  For a while, I passed most of my time by reading books.  It was one of the few things I could do that wasn't affected by the repetitions.  Sure, bookmarks were useless at the end of the day, but it was easy enough to remember a page number.  I read all of the books and eBooks in my house, including my school textbooks.  Weirdly enough, when I had no reason to learn, I actually started to find them quite interesting, so I read most of them a few times.  I didn't remember everything from them, which would’ve been true with or without the iterations, but I definitely remembered the parts that I found the most interesting.

Having read those books over and over, it made me more cognizant of the fact that teachers would misrepresent some concepts on purpose.  Or, well, I assumed that most teachers did it, because Mr. Dolman was about to do it, and it would drive me nuts.

"So, wait, the money isn't backed by anything?"

"It's not backed by any physical thing, no," Mr. Dolman explained.  "Instead, it's backed by the trust our citizens have in it.  The US dollar is what is referred to as 'fiat money.'"

"And the Federal Reserve just prints it?"

"They do.  They control the money supply this way as well."

Here it comes.

"If the Federal Reserve can print money, why don't they just print money to pay off the federal debt?"

"Well if they did that, it would devalue the rest of the money supply due to the influx of new money into the market."

Could I bite my tongue today?

"What, not going to say anything?" Hay whispered.

"What's the point?" I sighed.

"That's never stopped you before."

But I didn't feel like saying anything today, so I kept my mouth shut, and Mr. Dolman's class took route B.  Route C was when I corrected Mr. Dolman, and he had to explain to the class that what he'd just said was technically not true, but wasn't important to the context of the lesson.  Route A was when I stayed in my own class, Tracy Morris didn't sneeze, and Justin Clements didn't ask to go to the bathroom.  Maybe there were other small differences, but those were the ones that Hay pointed out to me.

Like I said, we were the only ones that could affect change in this world.  Even the smallest, seemingly harmless act changed just enough to make the day different in comparison to doing nothing at all.  I couldn't really explain why, though I had my theories.

There were many, many different routes Mr. Dolman's class took, but B and C were the most common.  A almost never happened anymore.  A was too lonely.

It probably sounds incredibly silly to say that being in a class full of people is lonely, but it's absolutely and horrifyingly undeniable to me.  Imagine playing a video game where every person you meet always does the same thing, every path is linear and only branches off based on choices you make.  That's our entire existence.  The only escape I have from that is interacting with Hay.

I didn't feel like expending any effort, so I continued down route B all the way until third period.  It may sound dull – and trust me, it was – but it was more entertaining sitting through class than staying at home and doing nothing since we had no better plans for the day.  Either way, I was with Hay, so what did it matter?

Marty – Mr. Randal, as we were supposed to call him – had eaten something that didn't agree with his stomach that morning.  It wasn't that he announced it to the class, it's just that I figured it out one iteration by following him...to the bathroom, and I'll stop there, because the rest of the story is about how you'd expect it to go, and ended with me quickly exiting the bathroom.

Anyway, as soon as Marty left the room, Hay pulled out her laptop and started playing the puzzle game.  Now, you might imagine the other students snickering or going a little nuts trying to figure out why Hay was playing a computer game in the middle of class when we were supposed to be reviewing a chapter in our textbook. In that case, you'd be just as surprised as we were the first time she did it.  It drew attention, sure, but then our classmates just pulled out their phones and started playing mobile games and texting their friends. So really, what was the difference other than the size of the device they were screwing around on?

Hay's record was a level that was about halfway through the game.  That may seem impressive, but there were people on the Internet that did speed-runs of the entire game in around 20 minutes, so Hay wasn't quite at their level yet.  If she really wanted to, she could certainly do it.  After all, she had all of the time in the world.

At exactly the right moment, Hay picked up her laptop (having not beaten her record yet again), and like clockwork, Marty reentered the room, looking a bit relieving.  A couple of kids got in trouble for having their phones out, as usual, but Hayley never did, and no one said anything since they were all just as guilty.

It was truly a standard iteration of August 28th.  All routes we'd been down before, nothing even remotely new.  Not that I expected differently, but even after 40-something years’ worth of reliving this day, I still had this weird hope that one day, something would surprise me.  Even just the smallest thing.

Anything to escape the monotony.

The rest of third period I spaced out thinking about what we could possibly do tomorrow that would be more exciting than sitting through classes again.  Urban exploration?  We'd been to a closed-down theme park a couple (few?) dozen or so times.  That was pretty cool as long as we spaced out our visits enough.  But hadn't we just gone a couple months of iterations ago?  Or was it a couple years?  Ugh.

I could sense a familiar, unpleasant feeling surfacing – a feeling that gnawed at every thought that kept me sane.  Luckily, we'd learned to notice the signs, and it was a slow creep that we could kind of control.

"Hay, do you wanna just skip fourth period and go home?  This iteration is getting to me, and I’m kinda feeling it."

Feeling it.  Hay understood what that meant.  It may sound quite innocuous, but we'd both had bouts of...well, I don't know what to call it. Tantrums bordering insanity? Releasing bottled up frustration?  Whatever descriptors you wanted to give it, the symptoms were the same: hysterical crying, probably some screaming, pounding our fists into a beanbag chair.  Occasionally we’d lash out at others, but never one another.  She could bring me back, and I could bring her back, but it took time.  Fortunately, or I guess unfortunately, that was something we had plenty of.

To spend our lives here meant to constantly be on the edge of our sanity.  It was a daily struggle.  I could never explore the world.  I could never finish a video game that I hadn't already mostly completed.  I could never order things from the Internet because we didn't have any same day delivery services.  Even if we acquired some new thing, it would be gone in a matter of hours and we'd have to acquire it again.

Everything compounded and compounded until it was unbearable.  I shuddered to think of living in this world alone.  If I didn't have Hay, I don't know what I'd have done.

When the bell rang to switch classes, we ditched and went back to my house in our separate cars.  No one guarded the school outside of recess to make sure students didn't leave, so we didn't even have to fake being sick or whatever.  We just left.  It was almost upsettingly easy.

My parents were at work for a few more hours, and we got off of school before they got off work anyway, so my house was the easiest to go back to at times like these.  Hay's mom had a weird schedule that meant she usually ended up home pretty early, but she was locked away in her office doing work.  Either way, we couldn't go to her house or we'd get caught.  Sure, she'd wake up the next day and have no consequences, but the rest of the day was shot if her mom found out we'd ditched school.  Hay would get grounded, and then she'd be stuck in her house without her phone for the rest of the day.  She could just walk out of the house, but then her mom would be worried until the day reset.  It's just one of those things that was easier to avoid.

As soon as we got home, I went to my room and sprawled out on the bed.  Hay sat down beside me and stared at the wall opposite the bed.

"How many times can this happen before it breaks us?" she asked.

"I don't know,” I muttered.

"There's a limit. One of these days, we’ll exceed it, and we won't come back from it."

These reactions had only started a few years of iterations ago.  You'd think the monotony would've driven us insane earlier, but I suppose our aging minds couldn't recover quickly enough anymore.

"I don't know what we can do about it."

"We could try looking for a way out again..."

I laughed, but there was no joy in it.  It was the only possible reaction.  Hay didn't respond because she knew it too.  She sighed and laid back, resting her head on my stomach.

"We'll die here," she said, now staring at the ceiling. “We’ll die in this screwed up world, and no one will even know what we’ve been through.”

"I know." We’d talked about it many times, and that was the conclusion we always came to.

"One way or another, we'll die here."

"I know."

It was times like these that latching desperately onto hope seemed so futile.

Chapter 3 – Events


Iawoke from a dreamless sleep and knocked my phone off the nightstand trying to turn the alarm off.  What a fine start to the day.

My phone buzzed shortly after landing on the floor.  I picked it up almost mindlessly and stared at the screen.

"Morning sunshine.”

We hadn't been to school in around six or seven iterations, I think.

"Morning.  School or no?"

"Up to you."

"I guess we can go today."

I sighed and began getting dressed.  For some reason that I couldn’t put my finger on, I felt a little more carefree this morning, like it didn't matter what I wore or if I was a tad more reckless than usual.  

By this point, being carefree was a foreign feeling. Maybe you’d think that without any “real” responsibilities, we wouldn’t have a care in the world. It’s a nice thought, for sure, but in reality, every day was a struggle to act and feel normal, and every day spent trying to purposefully not care seemed to result in the opposite effect, somehow.

Regardless, I had to get to school to meet Hay, so I continued my morning routine and wound up pulling into the parking lot just after her.

"You're later than me."  She paused and cocked her head a little.  "That's...weird."

"Yeah, I guess I dragged out getting dressed a bit."

Hay pulled out an oatmeal bar and began chewing her way through it.  There was a 50/50 chance she'd have that oatmeal bar for breakfast while walking with me.  She told me once that her hunger never varied, but her attitude toward when she got around to eating breakfast did.  Translated, she didn't want to do the same thing every day.

We walked toward the school building, past the crossing guard, and headed through the front doors.  Right on time.

Mrs. Chen stood at the front of the room as usual, shooting us a quick glance as we stoically took our seats.  The 7:45 tardy bell rang right on cue, and Mrs. Chen began taking attendance.  Shockingly, no one was tardy or absent, and attendance went by quickly.

It was the first time I'd been to class in a while, but it was like I'd never skipped.  I didn't have to turn in a note from my parents, didn't have to make excuses, and certainly didn't care either way.

Seeing Mrs. Chen made me sad.  Like, not in the way that death makes one sad, or in the way that a breakup can devastate a person.  Rather, it was like her very existence angered me.  She shouldn't be there every day.  She shouldn't be there unchanging, unknowing every single day.  I knew it wasn't Mrs. Chen's fault, but I wanted to yell at her and ask her why she couldn't tell me what was going on.  I wanted her to tell us why she didn't believe us the first 30 times we told her what was happening to us, trying desperately to get advice from the only authority on science that we knew.

It made me sad that even if I expressed that anger to her, she'd just forget it all the next day and I'd be angry all over again.  I couldn't do anything about it. I had no outlet to channel that frustration, so it just made me miserable.  And it drove me closer to breaking.  Lately, it seemed that things like this would stack one on top of the other.  A couple weeks of iterations would pass, and something that didn't bother me before would slowly start to bother me. I was running out of options on what to do about it.

I instinctively stood up without any warning.

"Hey, are you-" Hay started.

"We have to go.  Hay, I'm-"

"Excuse me, Brendon, is there a problem?"  Mrs. Chen probably looked annoyed, but I didn't even glance at her.

"Yeah, I have to go.  Hay, can we please?"

The class started murmuring, but I barely paid attention to the looks of confusion and chatter that always happened when one of us did weird stuff like this.

Hay instinctively grabbed her bag and stood up.

"Brendon, Hayley, please sit down, this isn't-"

"Sorry Mrs. Chen, we gotta go," Hay said flatly.  There was no point in sugar-coating it.  If we had to leave, we had to leave.

It was yet another morning that I felt like I was going to break.  These little things setting me off was dangerous.  I'd have to stay home for a month’s worth of iterations to fix this, maybe even two.  A week wasn't nearly enough, clearly.  It felt like my brain was melting in my head.

"Good morning students and faculty."  The morning announcements had started, but they were the least of my concerns.  I grabbed Hay's hand as gently as I could, in spite of my mental state, and rushed to the door.

"I will be reading the morning announcements today due to yesterday's unfortunate events."

I stopped cold in the doorway of the classroom.

"Brendon, Hayley, I will write you up for this if you don't sit down right now!"

"I will be reading the morning announcements today due to yesterday's unfortunate events."

Principal Groves' words echoed in my head.  Was I going crazy?  Did I hear him correctly?

I immediately started walking again, but this time, with a different conviction.  The exit that would take us back to the student parking lot was to the right when leaving the classroom, but I went left.

The line that Groves repeated every morning was referring to the fact that Mrs. Daniels, the vice principal, had gotten into a wreck.  She was fine, but she was out for a while and couldn't do the morning announcements.  We didn't remember anything about the wreck from August 27th, but over the course of around 16,000 iterations of the same day, we'd had plenty of time to learn what the principal was talking about.

The wreck, however, wasn’t my concern at that particular moment.

"Where are you going?  The lot is-"

"The announcement.  You didn't hear it?"

"I wasn't paying attention, Mrs. Chen was talking to us and you were in such a rush."

The office at the end of the hall was closed, but I pushed the door open without knocking.  The secretary stared at us, a bit confused at first.  Barging in wasn't exactly normal.

"Can I help you?"

"No," I said, walking past her.  It was rude, but I didn't care.  Not right now.

"Excuse me! You can't just go in there!"

I turned the knob to the office beyond her desk and pushed the door open.  Principal Groves looked up from his desk, possibly a bit startled, but still displaying the dry, unamused look he always seemed to have on his face.

"When did you record the morning announcements?" My voice was unusually stern.  I'm sure the principal wasn't used to demands from students.

"What do you think you’re doing busting into my office like this?" he demanded in return. Groves was obviously angry, but the confusion that was mixed in seemed to be tempering what would otherwise probably be furor.

"Please, just answer me.  It's more important than you could possibly begin to imagine."

"Yesterday evening.” He paused, looking almost shocked that he’d answered me.  “Now can you please tell me what this is all about?"

"Can I see your notes from the recording?  Where are they?"

He looked down at his desk, then back up at me.  "Son, I don't know what you think you're doing, but you're going to be in a heck of a lot more trouble than you're already in if you don't explain yourself."

I walked over and grabbed the stack of papers on the corner of his desk that he'd briefly glanced at.

He yelled something at me.  I didn't care.

"Brendon, what are you looking for?" Hay asked.

The top paper was useless.  Nope, not the next one either.

But then, I hit the jackpot.  The third collection of stapled papers in the pile were his notes.  They were messy, but they were what I needed – his script for the morning announcements, line by line.  I’d always figured he had one, but it had never been worth looking into before that exact moment.

Right there at the top of the page were the words I was looking for: "I will be reading the morning announcements today due to yesterday's events."

"Yesterday's events!" I shouted.  "Why did you change it?"

"Young man, I don't think you understand the seriousness-"

"Why didn't you read the script word for word?"

The color drained from Hay's face.

"What?" she said, her eyes wide in disbelief.

"In the announcements this morning, you added a word.  You said 'unfortunate events.'  That's not what your script says."

Principal Groves got up from his desk and gave me a death stare.  "I don't care what the script says!  I've had it with you!"

"Something changed?" Hay said.

I stood there in as much disbelief as Hay was in, despite having heard the words myself.

"Something changed."  I muttered the words almost emotionlessly.

I didn't have a clue what it meant, but I'd heard those announcements literally thousands of times.

Principal Groves began walking towards us, and suddenly I found myself being pulled out of the office by Hay.  We ran side by side out of the building, possibly the first time we'd ever run in those hallways.  I couldn’t remember for sure, but it was kind of weird to think about if true; two firsts in one day was far beyond unusual.

We didn't talk, we just moved as fast as we could to our cars.

"They're going to call our parents, we can't stay at your house," Hay said.

"I know."  This was too important, we needed to talk about this.  We couldn't get grounded. It just wasn't an option.  "Meet at the motel?"

"Yeah, see you there."

It was only 10 minutes away, but the drive felt much longer.  I was incredibly impatient; my head wouldn't stop racing with questions.  But, finally, I pulled into the parking lot with Hay just behind me.

“The motel” wasn’t code for anything. It was literally just some locally owned motel.  A little nicer than some, but still a motel. I couldn’t remember why we were drawn to that particular motel of the three that would let 18-year-olds check in, but it wasn’t like it mattered. We'd used it on a handful of other occasions that we just couldn’t be home, as much as we hated to worry our parents.

Hay and I rushed through the check-in process, and I paid in cash with the same bills that just reappeared in my wallet every morning; the very bills I'd used to buy literally thousands of other things.  I guess it's pretty fortunate I wasn't flat broke on August 27th, otherwise we'd have to ‘steal’ money from our parents to do this kind of stuff, and that was one of those moral lines that was kind of hard to cross barring absolute necessity.

Much to the surprise of neither of us, we got room 105. Being that the motel was the most basic of lodging with the most basic of rooms, the amenities weren’t exactly grand. There were two beds, a table with two chairs, no desk, a lamp with a burned-out bulb, and a half-dead plant in the corner by the window. It was the epitome of cheap lodging, but despite that, it was fairly clean, which I certainly didn’t expect the first time we’d stayed there.  

Strangely, it didn’t matter what time of day we checked in, it was like they saved room 105 just for us. I suppose it wasn’t a huge shock that they didn’t have a lot of customers that day, and to be honest, I was glad we always got room 105. It was close to the vending machines, and we didn’t have to climb up the stairs to the second floor, so it could’ve certainly been worse.

As soon as I'd closed the door behind us, all of the anticipation and anxiousness began pouring out.

"How the heck could the recording change?"

"I don't know.  Everything we know about how this system works is screaming at me that it's not possible."

"Everyone and everything resets at midnight, so if Principal Groves made the recording in the evening of August 27th, the recording wouldn't reset – it's totally unaffected."

I sat down in one of the two chairs arranged around the small table by the window.  Hay took the other chair, pushed her flats off with her feet, and sat cross-legged.

"We don't know enough about the recording.  Have we ever looked at it before?"

"I don't think so."  I paused, resting my chin on my hand for a moment.  "What format is it even in?"

"I always figured it was a DVD."

"No, I think they just record the announcements with a basic point-and-shoot, so it's gotta be a video file."

"Could someone have altered the file?"

"Even if that were the case, we'd still be looking at an unprecedented situation."

"If that video file changed, then other things can change.  We have to figure out the cause."

"I don't even know where to start."

"We start by finding and taking the video file.”

Hay arched an eyebrow at me.  "How do you propose we do that?"

"I can do it.  I just need some time to prepare, and a little help."

"Anything.  Name it."

We spent the rest of the evening and night planning out our next iteration in the loop.  We'd have to be late for school, and I'd need a distraction, but it could work.  Maybe.  And if it didn't, we had an endless number of retries.

My parents had called earlier wanting to know where I was.  I told them I was at David's house working on a school project.

David, my best friend before all of this.  David, now a complete stranger.  To him, we didn't hang out today at recess.  To me, I hadn't talked to him in a lifetime.

As it got later, we laid down on the bed and continued planning, but by that time, we were both exhausted.  I fell asleep with Hay on my shoulder.  It was the last thing I remember seeing before waking up again to my stupid phone alarm screeching in my ear.

If I could have one small wish granted in this hell of a world, it would be that if I fell asleep next to her, she'd be there when I woke up.  It may seem small in the big picture, but I could never share a morning with the girl I'd loved for 40-something years.  It was cruel to always wake up alone.

Chapter 4 – Lab

Iwas nervous for the first time in what seemed like decades.  There wasn't a lot that could affect me anymore, but sitting there in class waiting to hear the announcements was indeed inducing a strange amount of fear and anxiety within me.  The weird thing, though, is I liked the feeling.  Being nervous was a normal part of life. Normalcy was something I was willing to take in any form.

Hay and I glued our eyes and ears to the TV as it came on.  Principal Groves, who'd probably wanted to smack me upside the head in the last iteration, looked like his usual self.  Not that I didn't expect it, but who really knew anymore?

Then, it came.

“I will be reading the morning announcements today due to yesterday’s unfortunate events.”

"Whoa," Hay whispered.

"See, I wasn't crazy."

"Hayley, Brendon, quiet," Mrs. Chen scolded.  Of course, we didn't care about getting reprimanded.  The instant we'd heard the word 'unfortunate', our path for this iteration had been solidified.  We'd proceed with the plan we'd engineered the night before.

When the bell rang for second period, we'd begin.  We couldn't cause a commotion because we needed absolutely no attention drawn to us.  That meant we had to sit through first period for 90 grueling minutes.

And it might sound crazy, but for the first time in probably 15 years of iterations, I actually paid attention to the lesson, raised my hand to answer questions, asked ridiculously difficult questions to try to stump Mrs. Chen.  Literally anything to pass the time.

Hay snickered every time I raised my hand, like she couldn't believe how into it I was.  I probably deserved it, since I was being unusually difficult to Mrs. Chen, but it didn't matter.  At least she was getting some sort of entertainment value out of it.  After all, she had to endure this class period as well.

When the bell rang, I practically jumped out of my desk.  Hay would've normally laughed at such a spectacle since I was never in a hurry to do anything, but this iteration held significance.  We immediately left Mrs. Chen's classroom, ignoring Brent entirely.  I didn't even notice if he tried to talk to me.

We needed to get to the computer lab on the second floor.  That, in and of itself, wasn't a problem, but the lab was locked, and if anyone found us in there, our plans for the iteration would be shot and we'd have to try again next iteration.

The second floor of the school was, unsurprisingly, mostly classrooms, but the computer lab was nestled at the end of the hallway around a corner, right next to the library.  It would be easy to not draw the attention of students, but it wasn't like we cared about that anyway.  The more difficult proposition was to not draw the attention of the librarians that oversaw the usage of the lab.

I knew that if we stood at the very end of the hall until the bell rang again, no one would bother us for at least a few minutes.  That was where I sometimes stood while waiting to disperse myself into Hay's class, since the hallways by the classrooms were all monitored by teachers.

We stood in that spot and waited, and as expected, the bell rang without any unusual fanfare.  The hallway was empty, and the computer lab door was 10 feet away.

Hay's plan to enter the lab was simple.  We'd check the handle, and if it was locked like it was supposed to be, we'd have to do a little social engineering to get in.  It would be somewhat difficult, but we couldn't break down the door and we had no idea where the keys were kept.

I walked up to the door and twisted the knob, frowning as it barely gave.  Locked, as it should've been.  Crap.  I mean, we expected it, but still, it was frustrating.  Now we'd have to trick the librarians into letting us in, which, quite frankly, wouldn't be easy.

Hay was better with this kind of stuff, so she led us into the library and up to a desk where one of the librarians sat.  It was rare for us to enter the library at all, much less approach a librarian. I couldn’t honestly remember the last time I’d seen the room. My eyes darted around, noticing the free-standing and wall shelving that was literally covered with thousands of aging books. I couldn’t imagine that it was at all popular to check any of them out, considering we could check out eBooks much more easily online, but I was still a little surprised to see the shelves completely full.

Where we’d just walked through the middle of the room, there were a few rows of tables where a classroom full of students could sit to research or pretend to read or whatever they felt like doing when they had a class in the library. The two librarians had desks at the end of the rows of tables, which is where I stood, watching Hay smile the most adorably fake smile I'd seen her express in quite some time.

"Hi there, can I help you?" the librarian asked.

"Hello."  Bright and cheery, always convincing.  Hay was incredible.  "Mr. Randal asked us to come and get the computer lab key for this period.  Is it available?"

"It is, but I will need to see a note from him."

Of course, we expected something along those lines, so Hay dug into her bag and fished out one of the five different notes we'd prepared with Mr. Randal's name forged at the bottom.  It was the first time we'd ever tried something like this, so we had literally no expectations on how it would go down.  Despite how desperate we were for the plan to work, it was exciting to do something different where results were unknown.

Hay handed over the note, which the librarian glanced at very briefly.  "Can you please let Mr. Randal know that we really need to be made aware ahead of time for computer lab usage?  I'll let it slide today, but in the future, it's very important that we receive a heads up."

"Yes ma'am, of course."  God, her smile was perfect.

The librarian fished a key out of one of the desk drawers, then walked over to a small locker behind the desk.  With the key from her pocket, she unlocked the locker, hunted through it for a moment, then produced another key.

I waited for her to hand one of us the key, but instead, she started walking toward the door. Hay glanced over at me, prompting a quick shrug. We just needed to get in the lab, it didn’t matter if the librarian unlocked it herself or gave us the key, though I suppose the key would’ve been preferable and was what we were expecting.

Once in the hall, the librarian slid the key into the lock on the lab door, then twisted the handle so the door opened just a few inches.

"Please let one of us know when the class leaves the lab, and remember to observe the rules and cleanup after yourselves."

"Absolutely, no problem.  Thank you so much!"

We watched and waited as she walked back into the library, then we rushed inside the lab. Hay stood guard by the door as I bolted over to a computer in the back of the room.  

Some number of iterations ago, I'd taught myself some computer skills by ripping apart my computer at home dozens of times and breaking into my neighbor's LAN via their poorly-secured WiFi network and messing with their computers.  For some reason that I couldn’t pinpoint, that type of stuff came naturally to me. It wasn't much – I think the Internet referred to as "script-kiddie" stuff – but I had to hope it would suffice for getting this job done.

First, I needed administrator access to the workstation.  From my backpack, I pulled out a thumb drive, stuck it into the computer, and rebooted.  When the POST screen came up, I hit F12 to enter a boot menu, then chose the option to boot from the USB drive.  


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-32 show above.)