Many thoughts were lapping my head.

“Who is he?” the stranger asked.

“Don’t know.” I considered the dead man and holstered my gun. “He didn’t introduce himself. Speaking of that…” I cast a net over the short woman beside me. She’d walked up just after the other breathed his last. She was fortunate I didn’t shoot her.

She cocked an eyebrow at me. “Oh, my name. Nancy Sinatra, I’ve decided.”

“You decided.” She didn’t have a car. Numerous new questions joined my mental list.

The stranger chortled. “I’m an alien. Don’t have a human name. First time I’ve had a body like this. First time to Earth.”

Alien. Figured. I’d need to delve into that.

I shifted my victim to look at his face. Nice forehead shot, I congratulated myself. Been lucky to kill him. He’d had the most important element — surprise — but I was faster. “Can you help me with this body?” I’d decided to toss him over the nearby edge into the ravine below. Wasn’t nothing but starlight and a skinny moon’s cast for illumination but I knew the ravine was there. Sure wasn’t burying him. Figured it had to be done fast. Before others arrived.

She picked up the body. All five four of her hefting six feet plus something inches and a few hundred pounds, putting him over a shoulder like a light jacket.

“Geez,” I said. “Respect.”

She nodded. “Where to?”

I directed her, “Follow me.” I hope she wasn’t going to kick me over with my dead guy. “Be careful.”

“I will. I can see better than you.”

“Oh. I see.” Ha, ha. I use humor to cope. It’s not good humor.

“Why’d you kill him, Tate?”

“You know my name.”

We stopped and looked together into the dark valley at our feet. “That’s why I’m here,” she said. Not even breathing hard.

“Toss him,” I said.

She did.

We listened to his downward journey and the final silence. A warm wind licked my skin. A cricket began a lonely solo.

“You didn’t say why you killed him,” Nancy Sinatra said.

“Self defense. He tried to kill me when I arrived.”

“Ah. Prompts a difficult question, doesn’t it?”

“What?” I knew what but I was challenging and measuring. Figuring out who Nancy Sinatra was. Wondering why dead guy was alone.

“You came back in time. So how did he know you’d be here?”

The billion dollar question. “Same as you, I suppose.”

“Nope. You told me to be here. I didn’t tell anyone. So how did he know?”

That’s what worried me. Yet he was alone. “Yep. If I do it again, I’ll need to come back a little earlier. How are your shoes? They made for walking?”

“What?” Nancy Sinatra’s puzzlement carried like an echo across a canyon. “They’re shoes. What else would they be made for?”

I chuckled. “Forget it. Start walking. I’m going to teach you a song.”

I knew the song from my future. I wondered why she chose that name.

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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