It all started when I died.
The funny thing is I had written a short story starting with that exact same sentence when I was a young aspiring author. It was some desperately-trying-to-be-smart sci-fi story, but it didn’t work very well, so maybe that is why I became a physicist. In the story my character was floating somewhere in space; now I found myself in an American-style diner. It was just me and a guy in a black suit.
“Am I really dead?”
“I am afraid so”, said the man in black.
“And how the hell did I die? I remember nothing…”
“I cannot disclose that information. The important thing is you are here because I have to send you back.”
“Send me where? You mean I get a do-over? Is that a common thing?”
“Actually, no. It happens only on extremely rare occasions.”
“And who are you? Why do you look like a professor from a community college? No offence…”
“I am just a messenger. I can look like whoever you want.”
“Can you look like Margot Robbie?”
Of course I was doing my thing and trying to be funny in a complicated situation, but the Australian actress appeared in front of me wearing the costume from “Suicide Squad”. She was holding the baseball bat over her shoulders.
“And could you maybe lose the top?” I had no brakes on the awkward humor.
“Let’s not get distracted here. You have a very important choice to make. When exactly do you want me to bring you back? You will have all your memories and you could choose any point in time, from birth till one hour before your death.”
“Right after birth would be weird…”
“Also, you have a daughter. People with children tend to choose a time after their birth. Otherwise you cannot recreate the exact moment of conception and things tend to get messy. It’s some weird time travel thing.”
“So what would you recommend?”
“I don’t know, man. I am not an expert on this stuff. Usually people choose the last possible moment and try to stay alive for more than an hour.”
“OK, I will go with that one.”
Next thing I knew I was driving my car to work. "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" was sounding on the radio. In a few minutes I was done with my commute from Bristol and was parking at the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station. I rushed to my office, sat on my senior engineer desk and started to plan my next steps. Should I go to a hospital? What if I die in a car crash on my way there? Should I stay locked in my room and never leave?
My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the alarm. It meant that something bad was happening with the reactor. Before I could leave my seat, my colleague Nicolas entered the room.
“Tom, we need to get the fuck out of here!” his eyes were wild open and he couldn’t keep his breath. “The arm operating the cooling rods broke. The additional backup malfunctioned. We have to run. Now!”
I jumped off my seat and rushed with him to the exit.
“But we just reloaded the fuel. This means the contamination from the explosion will be ten times worse than Chernobyl. Bristol will become like Pripyat, millions could die.” I was thinking out loud.
“There is nothing we could do. Our best option is to try to get as far as possible. Unless you want to go to the reactor and place the rods by yourself…”
Then it hit me. It was possible to stop the explosion if someone could manage to place the rods manually. Of course the radiation would kill any living creature in a matter of seconds even with the protective gear. But maybe one would have just enough time to put one or two rods into the reactor and stop the meltdown.
I stopped running, turned around, and headed in the opposite direction. I don’t know what I had done in my previous life but it didn't work out very well, obviously. At least now I had a chance to save a lot of lives.
“Don’t do this, man!” I could hear Nicolas shouting in the distance.
It took me just a minute to put on the protective suit. Took me a little more to override the safety locks at the entrance. Only two people had the emergency codes and I was one of them.
Soon, I was standing at the giant led door. Even here the radiation was deadly enough so I was probably a goner already. For the second time today. That helped me enter the reactor with confidence. I grabbed the first rod with my hands and dropped it in the chamber.
I was already a dead man but felt nothing. While dropping the second rod I felt blisters forming on my skin but it still was not that bad. After the third rod it all went black.
When I opened my eyes I was again at the diner. Now there were people here and Margot Robbie was wearing the black dress from “The Wolf of Wall Street”.
“Did I do good this time?”
“You did just fine”, she smiled.
“Now we eat”, she raised her hand and called for the waitress.
“I really hope they serve craft beer here”, I said and moved a little closer to my female companion. "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" was playing on the jukebox.
Please, read this:
This was Alexander Mitev’s graduation short story, published here exactly as submitted.