A couple more pages to go still, but since updates are sparse I figured what the hell.
July 2, 9:31 a.m.
Moving like a machine, Sean Fielding hastily gathered his omni microphone, an unused scratch pad, two dull pencils and a lighter, and shoved them into his gray sidebag. Cold Spring Harbor meant forty minutes if traffic cooperated and once there he needed time to locate the hospital. The old-fashioned way, fold-out map and street signs he reminded himself. A year on from the Flashback, Sean still hadn’t weaned himself fully from the little conveniences (Google, internet map services) so ubiquitous in 2005.
Reinspecting his watch Sean realized cappuccino and a cheeseburger on the way out of town might cost him road time. A cold sandwich and Sanka would suffice.
Keys, keys, keys. He patted down his pockets as if frisking a suspect.
Already a third into his sandwich as he tromped through the modest, art-deco living room, Sean consigned his wife to a brief, almost parental peck on the forehead.
“Midnight tonight, hun. Midnight at least.”
“And which meaningless publicity fest is this?” Emily asked disapprovingly. Her voice drifted between the drone of a resigned housewife and the muted curiosity of a teenager. Deciphering the new Emily sometimes took more concentration than Sean cared to marshal. “Another one of those assembly-line _style_ junkets?”
“Thankfully, no—“ Sean swallowed bite three, muffling his next words. “A birth.”
“God, that’s so weird,” she said with an adolescent emphasis that practically demanded agreement. “Don’t you find those things just a tad freaky?”
”Imagine what it’s like for the baby,” Sean commented wryly, his mind already coasting down the interstate.
“Bye.” He paused a second before the door closed, when his eyes locked on Emily’s pale _frame_ and he remembered. This double life had presented her with some unique feminine challenges. Certainly ones he, with his relatively independent societal status, could never appreciate.
But the charade of normalcy had to continue, lest everything fall apart.
”Bye, kiddo,” he repeated, with a feeble smile.
The door locked with a thud; the silence that followed felt final. Andrea hated being called “kiddo” and Sean knew better, but he persisted in tacking the cutesy word onto his goodbyes anyway—a habit developed in the days following the explosion that rocked the Earth from its time-course last August.
Judiciously inching up the dial as he weaved onto the six-lane, Sean prayed for a tolerable radio station but found only tacky, oversynthesized pop and news of President Reagan’s latest break with original Cold War strategy in 1986-1. Why this decade? he wondered for the thousandth time. What did the eighties not teach us the first time?
The saying goes “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it,” but it fails to mention that repeating history with the benefit of hindsight proves equally problematic. As Sean navigated his ‘85 Accord down a highway filled with similarly boxy vehicles of yesteryear, his thoughts strayed back to that late summer afternoon: a lazy, humid day that crept forward at a glacial pace.
The kind of day no one expects anything to happen but probably should…
He remembered a stubborn backup on the off-ramp, fingers tapping impatiently on the wheel, cigarette lit, an awesome flash of light, and then – a cloak of darkness and silence. Opening his eyes in stages, as if waking from a subterranean sleep, Sean detected the distinctly arid odor of pencil shavings and newly printed textbooks. His classmates stared blankly at one another, all adjusting to what would become known as the first and only documented case of synchronized worldwide déjà vu.
The fantastic leap backward in time expunged twenty years of recorded history while, impossibly enough, maintaining the memories of all who experienced the reversal. By all scientific accounts the world remained arguably untouched, save for the temporal retraction. “The Flashback,” as newspapers soon dubbed it, left no scientifically measurable impacts whatsoever. Leading geologists, botanists, biologists, chemists, and physicists (those old enough to continue work in their respective fields) were ultimately unsuccessful in their attempts to formulate a coherent explanation of what had occurred.
The testimony of resurrected individuals offered the greatest implications for science and religion, while those zapped back to pre-birth would have to wait several years to recount their stories. Whenever possible, concessions were made to those who retained professional skills and remained of suitable age. By chance, Sean fell into this bracket. The Flashback left him an eighteen-year-old with the experience of a man approaching forty. Forced to comply with new Fairness in Hiring laws rushed through Congress, The Daily Sun reluctantly rehired Sean as an entertainment reporter, though at a reduced salary.
August 13, 2005 also marked the first day Sean regretted marrying a younger woman. Thirty-three when the time shift struck, Andrea became thirteen. Not surprisingly, her petition to return to work at McCarthy’s (a shotgun pub on the questionable north end) came back with a giant red X stamped across the letterhead.
”Why don’t they understand—I’m the same person!” Andrea had sobbed on Sean’s shoulder.
”I can’t change the rules, honey,” Sean explained delicately. “There are age limits.”
Curled in a fetal pose on the couch, Andrea had cried for hours. Too embarrassed to strap a flimsy training bra around her chest each morning, she donned puffy jackets and slack blouses that concealed her girlish, conic breasts. Some days she could scarcely contain her resentment toward Sean. This resulted in day-long spats that climaxed with Andrea soldiering off to her room like a rebellious teen.
The time shift produced another bizarre side effect. While people could dynamically change the direction of the future (for instance, following a briefing on 9/11, President Reagan immediately withdrew arms support for Mujahadeen fighters in Afganistan), some events happened right on schedule, most notably pregnancies and deaths. The Flashback allowed for many second chances, and yet, oftentimes people felt strangely impelled to carry out certain actions, having sex on specific dates and so forth.
As a pop columnist, Sean’s job took an especially surreal twist after the mystery explosion hit. 80’s stars found themselves back on top at the box office while much of the up-and-coming talent ended up in diapers. Brat packers like Emilio Estevez and Molly Ringwald relished their renewed celebrity, with most pledging not to repeat bad career moves and drug abuse.
More precarious, however, were the futures of stars-to-be, those destined to become famous in the years to come. Typical of post-Flashback culture, Sean’s assignment that day was beset by a weird blend of red carpet-like anticipation and utter expectedness. At 10:15 a.m., he would cover the birth of Lindsay Lohan, who possessed the bad fortune of being only nineteen when time reversed itself.
She wasn’t alone, of course. Britney Spears, who turned four in 1986, continued to grace the covers of magazines, despite threatened legal action against anyone who published young photos of the star. Perhaps the biggest story of the year, “Brad and Jen Reunite” dominated the tabloids for months. The reunion, though touted as “shocking” by the mainstream press, appeared somewhat inevitable to most observers considering Angelina Jolie’s dramatic drop in age.
”I’m going to [expletive] grow back up!” a ten-year-old Angelina reportedly yelled at Brad as he packed his bags.
Somehow, at sixteen, Jennifer Aniston once again seemed more Brad’s type.
Reaction to celebrity regression varied from heartbreak to faint relief. Tonight Show host Johnny Carson appeared to channel the sentiment of the country when he joked, “Paris Hilton, still making headlines… that’s right, with silly putty…” Certainly no one faulted young Paris or anyone else for something as arbitrary as age; all the same, a narcissistic heiress waking up in pre-school had more tabloid angles than a Bat-Baby born to Monica Lewinsky (who would turn thirteen later that month).
Smoke spiraled from the cigarette pinched between Sean’s fingers. A speck of ash broke off and landed in his coffee.
”Damn,” Sean grunted helplessly.
Planting the cigarette firmly between his teeth, he picked the gray pieces from the still steaming decaf and flung them to the floor. In a minute, Sean would nearly forget the incident, as images from the early days of the Flashback forced themselves into his stream of consciousness, memories that, by virtue of their existence, seemed to challenge the notion of memory itself.
Less than two weeks into the Flashback, and…
Despite complaints from publicists, late night comedians couldn’t resist the urge to lampoon the youthened stars. Some celebs, like five-year-old Macaulay Culkin, took the good natured ribbing in stride, even reprising their old film roles with renewed enthusiasm. But others, inevitably former sex symbols, considered the demotion in stature an unspeakable embarrassment, far worse than bombing at the box office or uttering some controversial soundbite.
In fact, Sean’s biggest catch had been a rare post-Flashback interview with Oscar-winner Charlize Theron, who had barely wrapped shooting on Aeon Flux by that fated August day. After some prodding by her agent (himself only sixteen) the once-buxom blonde reluctantly agreed to go forward with the prescheduled interview, in spite of her being, by all outward appearances, an adorable, flatchested ten-year-old.
As Sean knitted a path through the rush hour traffic, he laughed, remembering a joke earlier that morning. He couldn’t recall the set-up exactly—something about Ashlee Simpson lip-synching her first words. A moment later, the strangeness crept in again when he imagined the stars he’d covered repeatedly in 2005: Raven Symone, Mary-Kate and Ashley, Frankie Muniz, countless Disney newcomers. All of them babies again.
Just surreal. To think he’d jacked off once to “That’s So Raven” when Cinemax inexplicably cut out one weekend.
Hell, the Harry Potter kids haven’t even been conceived Sean thought.
Along with the barrage of daily teasing in the press, the regression of Hollywood’s leading talent spawned a cottage industry of folks eager to cash in on the phenomenon, often in surprising ways. The week before, a pair of Kirsten Dunst’s diapers sold at a collector’s auction for $400. Supermarket rags had a ball with it, proclaiming that “News of the Weird” had become the news of the day.
Reminiscing a little too intensely, Sean swerved abruptly when he noticed his exit approaching. He might have missed the turn completely had the WNKY news van ahead of him not signaled.
Gee, I wonder where these guys are headed. He grinned, thanking the good folks at “New York’s Only Reliable Local News Team” for the escort into Cold Spring Harbor.
Once inside city limits the drive took a scant five minutes, leaving Sean ample time to stretch his muscles and relax before the show started. He checked his watch again, to be sure.
As TV crews and reporters, draped in microphone wire and lugging old-model cameras and tripods, shuffled into the hospital, a lanky young man sauntered up behind Sean and tapped him on the shoulder. At first Sean didn’t recognize the curly haired college freshmen, and then it clicked—“Ballard?”
”Yep, it’s me, in the flesh,” Jim said tentatively. “Well, younger flesh.”
”What has it been? Five years?”
”Or twenty-five, depending on how you count nowadays.”
Sean’s curled his lip in amusement. “Looking sharp. I haven’t seen you looking this good since—never.”
”Not too shabby yourself there, friend. What are you up to? Snagged a date for the prom yet?” Jim snickered. The comment might have riled Sean slightly had Ballard not shared the same tenuous boat. Mature but still youthful and buoyant, Jim possessed a glow that Sean never witnessed when they met as cub reporters fresh out of university in Florida.
”So, how’s life part deux treating you?”
”I can’t complain. Company let me skip my senior year—“
”No, high school,” Jim continued. “They rehired me in January after I completed a few ‘remedial’ college journalism courses. Ann can teach, but she lost tenure. What about Andrea? How—“
Sean opened the trunk and fished around for a press release. “Thirteen,” he answered, back turned.
”Ouch,” Jim replied reflexively. “I’m sorry, man. At least she’ll grow out of it.”
”That’s what I keep saying, but she won’t listen.”
”She should talk to Emily…”
”Oh yeah, Jesus, your step daughter. How is she?” Sean asked, the brisk wind tossing his tie around like a cat’s tail.
”Still with us, thank god. But the transition has been a nightmare. She got engaged August 12th, Trevor Teller—nice kid—and well, you know the rest,” Jim reported regretfully.
”She’s back in kindergarten. Ann divorced Michael less than a week after the Flashback and won custody, but Emily is crushed.”
”I can imagine,” Sean said, beginning the short walk into the hospital lounge.
”We managed to locate Trevor in California. His parents agreed to fly him into New York in October. Of course, he’s only five now too, so options are limited,” Jim said. “She’s trying hard to adjust, poor thing, but it’s all so embarrassing… being so young again, and, well, you know...”
Jim didn’t have to finish the sentence. Sean understood. As everyone understood. The trauma of sudden physical age reduction, or SPAR in psychiatrist parlance, prompted the creation of entirely new branch of psychology dealing in treatment for post-Flashback depression. Adults who found themselves children again often required medication and weekly therapy to cope with the loss of social status, not to mention height, weight, breasts, penis length, and the like.
The conversation paused for a moment as Sean and Jim passed through the giant revolving door. Hastily scribbled signs pointed toward the elevator, where they met a handsome young beat reporter for the local paper. The group stopped on the third floor and filed into a sterile, off-white hallway leading to the neonatal wing.
A glut of talkative reporters, pacing like expectant fathers and glancing religiously their watches, hovered around the window looking into the newborn nursery. By Sean’s watch, Lindsay wasn’t due for another fifteen minutes, but times were always approximate, especially in cases like these where a mom decides to deliver a child in a different location. Originally Cold Spring Harbor served only as the spot where Lindsay was raised; now the picturesque hamlet would also be her birthplace. Doctors sometimes recommended switching settings, as it helped make the rebirth process seem new and special for the mother.
As Sean and Jim sat in the lumpy waiting room chairs awaiting the arrival of baby Lindsay, like two reluctant wise men come to behold the not-so-virgin birth, they traded stories.
”I saw Eminem at the Ferris Bueller premier last month,” Jim divulged.
”Yeah, he’s around thirteen now. Cute kid,” Jim chuckled. “A friend of mine suggested we call him ‘the really Slim Shady.’ He showed up with Gwyneth Paltrow of all people. She’s about the same age.”
”I guess Chris Martin doesn’t have the same allure without Coldplay,” Sean added.
”That, and he’s in the fourth grade.”
”Tom Cruise, minus Katie of course. I guess even Scientology forbids dating seven-year-olds.”
”Awww, but I’ll bet she’s a cutie,” Sean said, digging in his pocket for some loose change for the vending machine. “I’d definitely go out with her in nine years.”
”But have you noticed how quick stars jump back into their old personas? It’s a little creepy, you know. Like Alanis Morissette. How old is she, twelve? And already trying to go back on tour? Who wants to see a twelve-year-old Alanis Morissette sing “You Oughta Know”?” Jim asked, recoiling a bit at the mere suggestion.
”I think it’s meant to be kitschy,” Sean suggested.
Post edited by: Sumner, at: 2005/12/27 18:50