Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bid Time Return


“I’d give anything to do it over again,” Adrian Leverkuhn said to himself, as he cleared out his desk.

At 50, Leverkuhn had achieved all his major goals in life. Married his high school sweetheart. Fathered two sons. Become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

And yet...

Having put career ahead of family, he now had neither. His wife divorced him 16 years ago, tired of being in a marriage with an absentee, workaholic husband. And she took the kids with her in a bitter custody fight. His grown sons were alienated from their absentee, workaholic father.

And due to a stagnant profit margin, the board just fired him a few hours ago.

Mind you, he would be leaving with a very nice severance package, but that wasn’t the point. Not having to work 18 hour days 6 or 7 days a week suddenly reminded him of what an empty shell his life had been.

What was it all for, really? Competition for its own sake. Trying to impress his long-dead father.

Seeing his own aging reflection in the glass of whisky reminded him of all the years gone by. His wasted, irrevocable youth.

“I’d give anything...” he repeated to himself when he was startled by a flash of light and puff of smoke. Out of the smoke stepped a gentleman sporting a cape and a Vandyke.

“Well I’ll be damned!” Adrian exclaimed, under his breath.

“At your service,” said the gentleman, walking towards him, with a slight limp.

“What are you doing here?” said Adrian.

“I have a business proposition,” said the gentleman.

“What’s that?” said Adrian.

“You said you’d give anything to live your life all over again. I can arrange that,” he answered.

“What are your terms?” Adrian asked.

“Oh, the usual. But it’s not as if you’ve got anything to lose. Your life is in shambles, and you were hardly the pious type. So why not make it official?”


Adrian awoke the next morning, and rushed to the bathroom mirror. He was expecting to be young again. But instead seeing a teenager in the mirror, it was the same 50-year-old face, the same 50 year-old-body.

And, come to think of it, it was the same bedroom he’d slept in last week, last month, last year. Here he was hoping to wake up in his old bedroom. The one he had as a kid.

But nothing had changed. Not that he could see.

Adrian was furious. He’d been taken! Double-crossed!

He began shouting. Demanding that the gentleman in the cape and the Vandyke show himself.

Suddenly there was a flash of light and puff of smoke. This time a black mastiff appeared.

“You wanted to see me?” said the dog.

“You lied to me!” Adrian screamed, at the top of his lungs.

“Well, that wouldn’t be out of character,” said the dog.

“I should have known better than to trust you,” Adrian continued. “After all, you are Evil Incarnate.”

“No,” said the dog. “That would be the Antichrist. I’m Evil Disincarnate!”

“What does it matter, for heaven’s sake!” said Adrian.

“Watch your language!” the dog said sternly. “Besides, I always keep my word. You’ll see. Just be patient.”

And with that the black mastiff disappeared in a flash of light and puff of smoke.


Adrian went to the front door to fetch the morning paper. He didn’t notice the date until he began reading the news. It was fairly familiar, like he’d seen it all before. He glanced up at the date.

“That’s odd,” he said to himself. “That’s the day before I was fired.”

Adrian dressed for work, with a heavy sense of deja vu.

After a week of this, the pattern was unmistakable. He was, indeed, doing it all over again. The gentleman was true to his word. But with a catch.

Adrian just assumed that he would be sent back into the past, so that he could start over again. Instead, Adrian was regressing in time a day at a time. Moving backward rather than forward.

“I should have known better than to take anything for granted when dealing with the Father of Lies! Now I’m sorry I didn’t specify my intentions in the contract. Too late!”

Still, although it wasn’t what he was hoping for, it was not a total loss. He had some fond memories. It would be pleasant to relive the good old days.

And, of course, there’s so much he’d forgotten over the years. Much of that was routine. Boring. Forgotten because forgettable.

But there was also some buried treasure in the past. Things you take for granted when you’re young. When you have no sense of lost opportunities. Little, unrepeatable things that are precious in hindsight.


But living life backwards proved to be a frustrating experience. He wanted to go back in time so that he could change his future. And, for all he knew, he was changing his future. Maybe changing it for the better.

But he never got to experience tomorrow. He could only experience one day at a time. And when that day was over, he’d regress to the day before yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that.

So even if he tried to do something different than he remembered having done before, and even if he was having an affect on tomorrow by what he did today, he could never know it or enjoy it.

Then he was seized by another thought. Since he was emerging into the present from the day after, rather than the day before, maybe “today” wasn’t the same day. If he did something today to change tomorrow, and he came from tomorrow, then the “tomorrow” he came from wasn’t the same tomorrow anymore—in which case “today” wasn’t the same today anymore. How many “todays” had he been living?

Living one day at a time, before he shifted back to the day before yesterday, was rather confining—as he was soon to learn.

You could only go as far as you could drive in one day. For as soon as the new day began, you were back where you started the day before yesterday.

Taking a plane was impractical. For one thing, you couldn’t buy your tickets in advance. Or book reservations. Or plan ahead. By the time you got to the airport, and waited in line, and flown to your destination, there was no time left over to enjoy yourself.

You couldn’t make a new girlfriend, for any girl you befriended today would be a stranger the day before. You couldn’t buy a dog. It wouldn’t be your dog the “next” day, since the “next” day would be the day before you bought the dog.

You could only relate to old friends. Of course, they had their own plans. Unlike you, they could plan ahead. And sometimes their plans didn’t include you. Sometimes you could make them change their plans, to spend a few hours, or maybe a whole day, in your company. But sometimes they couldn’t fit you into their schedule.

Adrian was sorry that he never kept a diary. If he had a diary, it would be easier for him to maximize his time. He could consult his diary, see what he had done that day, then make better use of his time.

But all he had to gone by was his patchy recollection of the past. Reliving a day was a rather unnerving experience. One day was often much like another. So it was hard to remember what had happened. He half-remembered what was going to happen.

In some ways it would have been easier to either remember everything or remember nothing. But to remember some things that were about to happen, but not others, felt like moving in and out of yourself. Watching yourself over your shoulder, when you remembered what you were going to do next. “I did this, then I did that, then I did...”

And yet, remembering what you did interfered with what you did. You no longer just did it. Instead, you thought about having done it before you did it. So you ended up doing things a little differently. A note of hesitation. You lagged behind yourself.

And, of course, you weren’t always sure if you remembered correctly. “Am I repeating myself? Is this what I did before? Or am I confusing this something similar I did another time?”

It was a very schizophrenic experience. Like living two lives in tandem. Not quite separate, but not quite parallel. With memory and anticipation slightly out of sync. When memory is anticipation, and vice versa, you being to lose your bearings.

Speaking of anticipation, his fond memories were not as fond when he went back in time. He’d been looking forward to his past. But looking backward wasn’t the same thing as looking forward, even if you were reliving the past.

Living through them the first time was a discovery. He didn’t know what to expect. When it would begin. When it would end. That was a large part of what made it a pleasant experience. A pleasant surprise. A novel experience.

But now there was no suspense. He knew what was going to happen. He knew how long it would last. Like watching a clock the whole time. Knowing it would end. Knowing when it would end.

As time regressed, technology regressed. Adrian had forgotten how technology speeded up the pace of life.

And there was a time when Adrian would have savored the slower pace of life. But time was the one thing in short supply. He had to pack everything into a single day before today became the day before yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that.

Life was continuous, but it felt discontinuous. Nothing that happened to you today had any effect on yesterday. In a sense, each day became a self-contained lifetime.


It was nice to leave that middle-aged body behind. To feel like 30 again. Then 25. Then 20.

Being in junior high and high school again had a certain charm. Every normal boy felt nostalgic about his coming-of-age. For three years, every day was a high school reunion for Adrian—in his upside down, hourglass existence.

At least when he attended high school. Going back in time, he also found it incredibly boring to sit in class. To hear the same old geography lesson. The same old geometry lesson.

When he originally went to school, he was an average student. Now he was brilliant, not because he was any smarter, but because he was a 50 year old inside the body of a 16 year old. Not to mention a 50 year old from the future.

But what good did it do him? He could ace every test, but that was just today’s achievement. Yesterday was another day. And yesterday was just around the corner. The way forward was right behind him.

So he played hooky a lot. Cut class. Went off campus to kill time or fool around. But there was only so much he could do. He was underage. A minor. Couldn’t do grow-up stuff. Just kid’s stuff.

Nothing he did made any difference. At least not to him. If he wanted to, he could murder someone with impunity. Murder him in broad daylight. Surround by witnesses. There would be no consequences, since any consequences lay in the future. A day away. A year away.

It might make a difference to the murder victim, but not to Adrian.

And it was irritating to live at home—under your parents’ roof. To be a grown man inside a teenage body, being told what to do by your mother and father.

So he ran away from home. Everyday. And every morning he woke up at home.


Kindergarten wasn’t his idea of a good time. Crayons. Plastic dinosaurs. Building blocks. The alphabet. A rocking house. Drooling playmates.

Not how a 50 year old wants to spend the day.

And he couldn’t run away from home anymore. He’d get a spanking.

Do you know how humiliating it is for grown man on the inside to be paddled on the outside by his mom?


Lying in a crib wasn’t his idea of a good time. Couldn’t his mom at least mix a little whisky into the baby formula?

He could do without the stuffed animals. Or baby rattles. Or nursery wallpaper. It didn’t occur to his mom that little Adrian might prefer a pin-up.

And he could really do without the Huggies. He knew perfectly well how to go to the bathroom all by himself. But, of course, his parents just assumed he was a normal, ordinary baby.


If you thought a baby crib was restrictive, imagine how he felt floating in amniotic solution. It was dark. Nothing to see. He might as well have been blind. He could hear a heartbeat nearby.

Like solitary confinement in a windowless room. Or more like being strapped to a table.


Last thing he remembered was swimming or wriggling upstream in some sort of warm fluid, in a dark space—like a canal—as he headed towards...


  1. OK, possibly stupid question, but did you inadvertently use the character name from the famous Mann novel here or was it intentional?

  2. An intentional literary allusion, a la the Faustian bargain.

  3. I thought life began at conception.


    "I thought life began at conception."

    In the real world, yes—but in fiction, life begins whenever the author says it begins!

    Remember, too, that Adrian's experience is not a natural event. Rather, it's the result of a diabolical curse. So natural laws don't apply.

  5. That is hell-a-scary horror fiction. Frightening!!

    I haven't seen the much-acclaimed movie starring Brad Pitt yet (I think it's called "The Curious Case of Benjamin Bratt" or something like that), but your story reminded me of the previews of that movie.

    Steve, you should get an agent and publish!!

  6. This is similar to Groundhog Day, except the main character does not change his outlook on life. The story seems new though.


    “I haven't seen the much-acclaimed movie starring Brad Pitt yet (I think it's called ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Bratt’ or something like that), but your story reminded me of the previews of that movie.”

    Actually, reading about the movie (which I haven’t seen), as well as the short story on which it’s loosely based, started me thinking about how I’d handle that general theme.

    There are some basic differences between my story and the screen play (from what I’ve read). In the film, the protagonist gets younger, but he’s moving forward in time. Moving into the future. In my story, the protagonist also gets younger, but he’s moving backward in time. Moving into the past.

    Also, in my story, the protagonist retains his adult memories and faculties to the bitter end.

    And, of course, there’s an occultic element to my story—to get the ball rolling.

    There are different and sometimes complementary ways of developing the basic theme:

    a) The protagonist gets younger, but lives forward.
    b) The protagonist gets younger, but lives backward.
    c) The protagonist gets younger physically and mentally
    d) The protagonist gets younger physically, but not mentally.
    e) The protagonist stays the same age (adult), but lives backward.