Genre: Science Fiction
Short Story Type: Short Story
Summary: Doug Patterson is nearing 30 and feels his life has been one mistake after the other. A mysterious professor sends him a letter, offering him the chance to go back in time to change his life. Will Doug take that chance? If he does, what will he change?
The first time Doug considered going back in time to change his life was when he was twelve, on the last day of sixth grade. He hadn’t yet begun to read the great stories of time travel. He hadn’t tried to write a science-fiction story. He hadn’t even seen an episode of The Twilight Zone or Star Trek by that age.
He’d had a crush on Mary Swallow all year. He could never screw up the courage to tell her he liked her. He wasn’t bold enough to ask her out. He was too nervous to sit next to her in class. On the last day of school the final issue of the elementary newspaper came out, and everyone was getting their copies signed by their friends. He wrote an roundabout note on her copy that more-or-less said that he liked her.
That evening, as he sat at home while his classmates partied at Rebecca Schmidt’s house, he considered going back to change what he’d written.
As Doug suffered through his teen years, those feelings mounted. He regretted not asking a few girls out. Not working harder in Typing so he could get a position on the high school paper. Saying wrong things in various classes. Going to the movies instead of his junior and senior proms.
Then came college, and more regrets. A pointless effort to change the mind of the pompous teacher in his creative writing class that got him booted out. His first fumbling effort at sex. Not working at a job while he studied. Dropping out after two years. Worst of all, that idiotic decision to get that just-out-of-style Duran Duran haircut.
So when the letter came, Doug believed his life was turning out to be a mess. He was working part-time in the mail room of a big law office, struggling to get enough cash to pay off some foolish credit card debts. The handful of stories he’d sold to tiny magazines had earned him little cash and not even a measure of notoriety. His social life consisted of a couple phone-calls to friends every few months.
“Doug Patterson, are you bothered by your life?” the letter asked. “Have you made mistakes that you wish you could correct? Did you miss initiatives or opportunities? Are there things you could have done that you failed to do at the time?
“If you had the chance to fix just one thing in your past, would you take that chance?
“Answer these questions by calling me at the toll-free number under my signature. This is no get-rich-quick scheme. This is not a joke. If you are happy with your life, or at the very least satisfied, then by all means throw this letter away. If you aren’t happy, what will it hurt to call?”