Option Three

A mail carrier delivered it. Plasticized black envelope. White labels. His name and address, and the sender, Quest Of, Hershey, PA.

We will be watching you. Failure to completely comply with all instructions will result in immediate termination.

He’d read about terminations. Scoffers who said they would open it on Youtube, Instagram, TicTok, whatever. All vanished in a puff of flame. Comments said, “That’s so fake. How can a company do that? It has to be fake.”

His hands shook. Doors and blinds were closed. He’d agreed. Reveal nothing.

A tab said, “Pull here to open”. He wrestled it for ten minutes before winning. Sweat covered his face by then and he huffed air. Good workout.

The envelope was emptied and placed into the sink. Pale white smoke rose. The envelope splashed into white and pink powder, like Kool-Aid before you add water, and vanished. It smelled like fresh-baked cherry pie. He wished he had cherry pie. Thought about going to the bakery. Just for two seconds.

The ignored treasure was on the counter. A silver ring. A black one. Red marble.

Glittery italics script spelled his name and the date on each.

“Place the silver ring on a finger on your right hand,” instructions directed. “Place the black ring on a finger on your left hand. Then, hold the red ball in both hands and close your eyes.”

That was it? His mouth was so damn dry. Nerves hummed like power lines in the wind.

Should he sit?

Do it in the kitchen?

Would anything be left of him afterward?

He wrote a submission. Months ago. Then re-wrote, edited, revised, wrote it again. Then sat on it before pressing, send.

“I want option three so I may go back to 1962 and kill Lee Harvey Oswald before he assassinates President John F. Kennedy in 1963. I think that if I succeed, this world and its future will be better because President Kennedy represented youth, positive energy, and the future. Our country and the world has lost its moral compass since President Kennedy was killed. Bringing him back could restore it.”

He sincerely believed what he wrote. Though he was four when Kennedy was killed. The mourning and aftermath imprinted him. He wasn’t surprised that he was selected. He was pure of mind, a true believer.

He didn’t tell anyone what he’d done. Secrecy was required. He and his friends talked about Quest Of and its options, but he never told anyone that he’d applied, though, after one or two beers, staying shut about it was a killer. He almost quit drinking. They all doubted it was real.

Joe declared in disgust, “It’s a con job.”

Ron said, “I agree in principle, but they don’t ask for money or anything, that I’ve read. What do they get out of it?”

“Publicity,” someone else stated. “Venture capital,” suggested another. “Start up money.”

Man, did he want to call someone and tell them about it. Conversations were imagined. “Look, I did it, I’ve been selected. I have it, yeah, option three.” But he knew what would happen. In theory.

He ate lunch and dawdled, talking himself into doing it, examining the rings and shiny marble, never holding all at the same time, afraid of what might happen if he did.

Finally, two and a half hours after opening the envelope, he sat down in his living room recliner and followed the instructions. Disbelieving that anything would happen, he closed his eyes. The marble burned like a hot coal in his hand. Flinching, his eyes involuntarily fluttered open as his ears popped.

He, Keith, Sara, and Ron questioned how something like option three might work. Was it more than time travel? Had to be, Sara argued. If you went back to do something, would you still be in the same location where you started? Like, his house wasn’t built until 1999. Before that, it was a horse pasture.

Now he had the answer.

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