Chapter 1: Saving Pastrami on Rye
It was a lousy test for such an amazing achievement. But the entire endeavor had begun as a joke and now they felt compelled to see it through. The two friends stood before the mechanism, quiet. They shared a nervous energy, uncertain. Their task was simple, but the Herculean effort was not without significant risk.
John set the dials. “You’re sure it was Tuesday, at 2:15 a.m.?”
“Six years of work and that’s what you want to verify before we make history?”
John shrugged, nodded, sighed. “This better be one amazing sandwich.”
“It will be,” Toby said. “Too bad we have to split it three ways.”
“I’ll still be there. Since I’m the one who dropped it.”
“It will be worth it.”
“We build this thing to go save a sandwich.”
“No, but I’m hungry. You shouldn’t make big decisions when you’re hungry.”
“Well. Let’s go save that sandwich.”
Chapter 2: Schrodinger’s Sandwich
The sandwich hit the floor, meat-side down, with a sound not unlike a sack of eyeballs being dropped from a counter. Toby paused a moment to wonder where this comparison came from, but dismissed it with his next thought.
“We’re too late.”
“I can see that.”
The pair stepped out of the pantry and into the small kitchen. It barely fit the two of them and a small table crammed into one corner. A light over the tiny gas stove was the only illumination and between them on the floor lay the fallen sandwich.
“I don’t get it,” said John.
“Me either, I was sure we left enough time.”
“We must have been close. We heard it hit the floor. I mean, I heard it--did you?”
“Yeah, it made that weird sound.”
“Right, like a sack of …”
“Nevermind. But it raises the question: Where are you?”
“No, I mean the Earlier You. The one who dropped the sandwich.”
They paused and looked around the room.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, what did you do after you dropped the sandwich?”
“I cleaned it up. And thought about what I could have done not to drop it. That was the last of the pastrami.”
“Yeah, meat-side down. Can’t rescue that.”
“Maybe if I cleaned the floor more often.”
“Not even then.”
“So I don’t understand what happened. Or what we do now.”
“What do you mean?”
“We came back to save a sandwich, and we failed. So, was all that work for nothing?”
“You may be missing the bigger picture.”
“How this thing we built actually works?”
“No, not that, though it will probably have some uses.”
“Well, what then?”
“You’ve gone missing. You should be here, but you’re not.”
“And there’s one other thing.”
“That’s not pastrami.”
The two leaned down to examine the fallen sandwich. It was clearly roast beef, not pastrami.
“That’s clearly roast beef.”
“True. Definitely not pastrami, anyway.”
“You know what this means?”
“It’s a decoy sandwich. Someone knows we’re after the pastrami.”
Chapter 3: Sandwich of Doubt
The two stared at the sandwich. They thought. Time passed.
“I wouldn’t call ‘puzzling’ a bad thing.”
“True, but this doesn’t seem like a good development.”
There was a rustle from the pantry, and John and Toby looked up, startled. The door slowly opened and the pair watched as they themselves cautiously stepped out.
“We’re still too late,” said John.
“I still don’t understand it,” said Toby.
“I don’t understand any of this,” said Toby.
“Well. It’s awkward. This.”
The four stood in the small, dim kitchen, John and Toby stared at themselves, unable to look away. The room was small, and the four were shoulder to shoulder.
“This is a first.”
“It is to me.”
“This is the first time for you?”
“My first time talking with my twin brother from another time? Yes. First.”
“It’s not my first time. This is the second time we’ve talked.”
“So you’ve done this multiple times?”
“Yes. After we came back the first time, we just missed saving the sandwich. So we tried to go back again, just a little bit further. And then again, this time.”
“But that doesn’t make sense. You’re here later.”
“Maybe. Something seems to have gone wrong, Again.”
Toby opened the refrigerator and pulled out a few beers. The two Johns accepted the bottles wordlessly, The second Toby took a beer and then pulled a bottle of whiskey from a cabinet.
“Hey, it’s my place, you know. I bought the beer and the bourbon.”
“No one said anything.”
Toby paused. “I guess that’s true.”
“Strange cocktail party.”
They drank in silence. Toby poured more whiskey, first for John and then for John and then for his twin, and finally for himself.
“Good question. Ordinarily, I’d say this sandwich just isn’t worth it.”
“But this isn’t just about the sandwich, anymore.”
“Right, Toby has gone missing.”
“And the sandwich isn’t the right sandwich.”
“Maybe we should head back and rethink this.”
“Head back to when?”
“Well, when did you come from?”
“We came the day after the day after you left.”
“And we’re from the day before.”
“So if we just go back, all this should be fine.”
“Maybe. No sandwich.”
“And maybe Toby vanishes.”
Both Toby and Toby looked up. “What?”
“I don’t know., Just seems like … if you’re not here, then where are you?”
“You know what I mean.”
“I’m still troubled by the sandwich. The second, roast beef sandwich.”
“I really wanted pastrami.”
“Of course. We all did. That’s why we’re here.”
“I don’t remember buying roast beef that week.”
“It was years ago. I couldn’t tell you what I bought for dinner last week.”
“Yeah, but this was a special sandwich.”
The four downed their shots, finished the beers and discussed plans for getting back to their respective times. But a noise in the pantry caught their attention, and moments later the party had expanded to six.
“Is this going to keep happening?”
“I’m not sure.”
“This is ridiculous.”
“I always thought time would stop or the world would explode if something like this happened.”
“That’s just in movies.”
“So maybe the fabric of space and time is more sturdy than Hollywood would have us believe.”
“Or maybe it’s a massive campaign by government-backed films to dissuade serious research into this technology.”
“Reagan funded Back to the Future?”
“He was a movie buff.”
The six nodded, silent for a moment.
“I assume this is not your first time running into us?”
The newest pair shook their heads.
“Third time,” said the newest John.
“I’m still missing?” asked Toby.
“We’ve got to get out of here.”
“Four in the kitchen and two in the pantry.”
“No more room.”
“Everyone back to their respective times.”
“We should meet back up somewhere.”
Chapter 4: A Brief History of Sandwiches
John and Toby stepped out of the pantry and into the same dimly-lit kitchen. They both checked the floor for sandwiches, pastrami or otherwise, but there were none.
“Looks like we’re in the right spot.”
“You know, I don’t usually have sandwiches lying on the floor.”
“If you’re saying you can tell we’re back in the right time and place because there’s no sandwich on the floor, I’m just saying most of the time there isn’t one.”
“Noted. You keep your floors sandwich-free. But all that aside, we’re still no closer to finding it.”
“Or me. Which I’d argue is the more pressing concern. There is a 24-hour deli down the street, you know.”
“I’m glad that you seem to have made the trip back safely.”
“Do you really think there’s danger?”
“Going back, you could argue that your absence was explained by your presence. But then those other guys showed up, so I really have no idea.”
“Right,. Are we not going to even talk about that?”
“I think I’m still processing it. Also, I didn’t look so good. I need to eat better.”
“Too many sandwiches.”
The two sat at the table, still crammed into the corner. John got two more beers and Toby retrieved the whiskey, though a different bottle from six minutes and years before.
“Let’s work backwards.”
“Forward might be more helpful.”
“Same thing, right?”
“You said you made the sandwich. Were making it. It was almost done.”
“And you were on your way over to eat.”
“But then you dropped it.”
“So there was no sandwich when you arrived, we started talking about this crazy idea to save it, and now we’re here.”
“To sum up.”
“Maybe that was a little tight.”
“What caused you to drop the sandwich?”
“You just dropped it?”
“I guess so. It’s been a while.”
“It’s a mystery. Seems obvious something strange is going on.”
“You’re talking about the second sandwich.”
“It makes no sense.”
“It’s late. Let’s work on this tomorrow.”
“You going by the deli?”
Chapter 5: Back to the Sandwich
“It’s safe,” said Toby.
Toby stepped out from the pantry. In his hand he cradled a monstrous pastrami on rye. He sat down across from himself and sliced the sandwich in half.
“It really is a great sandwich.”
“I know. I don’t even feel guilty.”
“You can’t split a sandwich three ways.”
“Exactly. Doesn’t work at all.”
“Still, I’d understand if someone said all this work and planning seemed ridiculous.”
“Whatever. I’m sure we’ll find some other use for the machine.”
“Think John will get the pastrami or roast beef at the deli?”
The two ate in silence.
Down the street, John ordered both sandwiches. “One for breakfast, and I’ll save the other for lunch,” he told himself.
Back home, he dropped the bag of sandwiches on the table, noticing the odd sound it made. The sun was just beginning to come up and John thought back to the strange events of the night.
As he began to take a first bite, a noise in the next room startled him and the pastrami slipped out of his hands and landed on the floor.
John cursed, and then shouted in surprise as his twin stepped into the room.
“Sorry about that,” John said, nodding to the fallen sandwich. “Bad luck with pastrami, lately.”
John recovered, composed himself, and nodded.
“Seems like it’s been happening a lot, lately.”
“I’m here to help you save the sandwich.”
“What happened to your eye?”
The twin’s left eye was covered by a bandage and John instinctively rubbed the corner of his own eye, as though wiping away a tear.
“You’ll find out. Patience.”
John nodded. “Well, let’s go save that sandwich.”
“Good. But first, wanna go halves on the roast beef?”