I went to bed at 11:37 PM on December 31st, 2021. Not being much of a partier, that wasn’t entirely atypical of me on a New Year’s Eve. Besides, it didn’t really seem like there was all that much to celebrate.
I’m not much of a dreamer, either, but boy did I ever have a doozie of a dream that night. Man.
Everyone was moving faster than me; talking faster than me. They seemed at first to be speaking in fast forward, or what I like to call “Chipmunkese.”
As if that wasn’t strange enough, I soon realized why I couldn’t understand them. It wasn’t the speed of their speech, it was the direction. They were talking backwards. They were moving backwards.
You might wonder why I didn’t realize this the instant the dream began, but you have to understand that it all seemed perfectly natural to me.
Of course they were going backwards. Why shouldn’t they? What alternative is there? Forward? Don’t be ridiculous.
After what seemed like hours of this, of wandering about about in this strange misty void full of people doing everything in reverse, I woke up.
I blinked. And then I blinked again.
Why is the wall yellow?
It was my wall. Same horizontal crack along the length of it, only now it was hairline. But my wall was blue.
Why is there a… a Joey Lawrence poster where my TV goes?
I looked around the room. There was a TV, but it was a 13-inch TV/VCR combo, and it was sitting on top of a glass rolling cabinet.
There were other ’90s teen idols present on the walls to keep J.L. company. There was even a poster featuring the Nelson twins, shirtless but wearing dusters and cowboy hats. They had matching pink guitars, white boots, and were leaning on an old fence as the sun set behind them in a stunning display of unnaturally vibrant colors. Their long, flowing golden manes almost appeared to be in motion.
There was a cluttered desk with a really old Tandy computer on top of it that had heart stickers all over it.
Oh, and there was a teenage girl sleeping in pajamas in the bed beside me. Was this a girl I’d known back in the day, in high school? That I’d had a crush on once and was now remembering in a dream?
She lived here, once. Yeah. The Morgans. Bob Morgan, guy I bought the house from. I’d only met him and his wife a couple of times, but this was their daughter, whom they’d brought with them to the closing. I was almost certain of it.
Her eyes opened, and stared into mine very, very briefly before she cut loose with a real ear-splitter of a scream that made me jump up from the bed like a cat, stumbling backwards and falling into a dresser, which I knocked backwards into the wall, spilling all of the costume jewelry, perfume bottles and other girly paraphernalia that was piled on top of it onto the floor.
The screaming continued. I froze for a moment, then dashed out the door into the hall, where some kid in a red tank top with a mullet blocked my way, his aggressive, gorilla-like stance almost comical in light of his small stature.
“Dad! Some pervert just came outta Becky’s room!”
Bob Morgan burst out of his bedroom at the end of the hall, wearing nothing but sagging tighty whities. “What the hell?”
The screaming continued.
I ran to the bathroom, locked the door and wrenched the shower window open. I squeezed out of it and fell into the backyard, scrambling to my feet just in time to make a break for and climb over the fence before Bob and the mullet kid could reach me. They both tried to exit the patio door at the same time, which bought me an additional three or four seconds.
I dashed down the dark alley that ran behind my street, and wondered why my labored gasps and hammering chest felt so real. This was a dream. I should’ve been able to fly, or something. Effortlessly. And yet, here I was, struggling like a mere corporeal being.
A corporeal being, I realized for the first time, who didn’t have any shoes on. I was just wearing the ninja turtle boxers I’d gotten three years ago as a dirty Santa gift at work.
I always hated that they called it that. Dirty Santa. Gross. Everything always had to be so sexual.
It was like a movie, really, when I came across an open gate and a clothesline full of clothes that were more or less my size. Everything was so brightly colored, but I chose a pair of acid-washed Guess jean shorts and a fuschia Tommy Hilfiger polo. This was the least conspicuous outfit I could come up with out of what was available, so just imagine what else was there. They were dry and fit well, but I still didn’t have any shoes.
I saw the flash of police lights over the rooftops and I knew they’d be waiting for me at the end of the alley, so I hopped the fence of the yard I was in and ran to the street opposite mine. I then cut between two houses across that street and hopped the fence into that alley.
I emerged from the end of it expecting to see a shopping center with a Best Buy, a Target, a Petco, an Autozone… you get the gist. One of those big clusters of tan box buildings and big colorful signs. All of that should have been there, just across the concrete drainage ditch that teenagers skated in and tagged with indecipherable graffiti.
There wasn’t anything there, though. Nothing. Just a vast, empty field that desperately needed mowing. Beyond it lay the city. My city. But it was…different.
I crossed the field, cursing as I stepped on the shattered remnants of a glass Mountain Dew bottle. I picked up the label that had been wrapped around it, examining it in the moonlight. Old. One of those short fat ones with the plastic labels. Those were so stupid.
There was much more glass, and by the time I reached the other side of the field, the soles of my feet were a bloody mess.
I found myself leaving bloody footprints on the sidewalk at the corner of 45th and Murphy, illuminated by the headlights of a vehicle creeping up behind me. I turned around.
Some guy with a genuine expression of concern on his face pulled up next to him in a really old Honda Accord that looked like it could’ve just rolled off the assembly line.
“Hey man,” he said, poking his head out the window. “You alright? What happened to your shoes?”
“I…” I paused, unsure of how to answer. “I left them in… in the future.”
He gave me a puzzled look. “Well, you’re bleeding, dude. I’d give you a ride someplace but I just got this baby and the interior’s cream, so…”
“I understand,” I told him.
The man scrunched his face, and it was clear there was some sort of internal struggle going on inside of him.
“But hey,” he said, bending forward and disappearing for a moment before popping back up with a pair of well-worn white and red Nike high tops, “I need to get some new Air Jordans anyway. Why don’tcha take these?”
Not only did I have no real choice but to accept, I did so gladly. He even gave me his socks and drove home completely barefoot. I was grateful, even though he wasn’t a real person.
Or so I thought, anyway. In the days to come, after the sun had risen and set three times, I began to wonder if I was, perhaps, in a coma. Was I lying in a hospital bed with my sister Sherry from Tucson standing over me, her eyes puffy with tears and lack of sleep after catching a flight out in the middle of the night?
I dismissed that thought fairly quickly. Besides the fact that Sherry couldn’t stand being around me, this was all too lucid to be a dream or a coma. Remember, I wasn’t a dreamer, to begin with. So for me to advance from vague, abstract, black-and-white brain farts to…this, whatever it was–well, that’d be quite a leap. I began to suspect that I really had awakened in the ’90s. I found a newsstand, as unwitting time travelers invariably do in these situations, and the date on it was January 1, 1991.
My belly was rumbling, and I didn’t have any money. I’d shoplifted some beef jerky from a Circle K (Hey, I thought it was just a dream, remember?) but I needed something a little more substantial. And my lacerated feet felt gross and sweaty and itchy and stingy in my secondhand Jordans. I caught an unflattering glimpse of my reflection in the window of a radio shack. When I leaned in to examine myself closer, I found a nervous employee staring back at me. Probably wondering if I was some kind of junkie or vagrant, or junkie vagrant who intended to enter the store and steal something.
“Nobody wants anything from Radio Shack anymore!” I called through cupped hands at the window. “That’s why they all closed!”
The man was pointing at me and talking to his manager by then, and I kept waking.
A car rolled past blasting Billy Idol’s Cradle of Love, which I’d entirely forgotten about but suddenly remembered all of the lyrics to. Great song, that one. I made a mental note to revisit it on Spotify.
With what? You have to go buy the cd, here. Or the tape. And you don’t even have anything to play those on, anyway. You don’t have anything.
The city seemed calmer, its people less rushed. They read newspapers instead of staring at screens. They spoke to each other. It was weird. I wasn’t so sure I preferred things this way. I felt so conspicuous. People saw me. We made eye contact with each other. Some nodded or smiled. Others gave me dirty looks upon noticing my blood-smeared sneakers.
Don’t you people have Tweets to read or something?
Of course they didn’t. It felt so strange, being phoneless. It felt even stranger being homeless, which is what I was.
What the hell am I supposed to do with myself?
I had a degree in telecommunications, but I graduated in 1996, so even if I’d been able to produce it to a prospective employer, it wouldn’t have done me any good.
I got a job at McDonald’s, which is where I’d worked during college. It was a trip, standing in front of a hot grill once again, scraping burnt beef from the Teflon sheets that covered the grill press and repeatedly burning my arm in the Big Mac Bun toaster. Except this time I was in my forties, and the burns didn’t heal as quickly.
I was just as fast as ever, though, dressing quarters and crispy chicken sandwiches and dropping fries, loading up the warmer with Egg McMuffins for the breakfast rush and Macs, cheeseburgers and pies for lunch.
I remained homeless for awhile, sleeping where I could and washing myself in public restroom sinks, until a coworker named Liza took me on as a roommate.
When I watched the news, I found myself bored. I already knew all the stuff they were talking about. Gulf War started up. Hmm, whoop de doo. Been there, done that. Clarence Thomas, pubic hairs on Coke cans? Yeah, I remember that. Boring. Simpsons T-shirts everywhere, Wilson Phillips, America’s Most Wanted.
It was while watching that particular show, in fact, that the realization of my value first dawned upon me, and I hated myself for not seeing it earlier.
Liza was stretched across the couch, smoking and reading Cosmopolitian or something similar to it, and I was sitting and watching John Walsh ask for help solving a cold case that I remembered hearing about on a Dateline.
“Yeah, yeah,” I said to the TV. “It’s that guy in Omaha. He killed that kid and four others. Just go arrest him, already.”
Liza seemed amused as she peered over the top of her magazine. “What are you talking about, dude?”
“I’ve seen this. I know what’s going to happen. I’ve seen everything. I’ve seen all the movies that are coming out, I already know what the news is going to be about, and it’s just like…I’m living in a rerun. And I don’t know why.”
She laughed, obviously not comprehending the seriousness of my concerns.
“If you really could predict the future, you’d run the world,” she told me. “You’d be like, the Nostradamus of the ’90s.”
I sat in silence a long time. Run the world.
After saving up enough money over several paychecks, I purchased a used typewriter and began writing a book–a book of prophecies in which I predicted the L.A. Riots, the Murrah Bombing, Monica Lewinsky, Jeffrey Dahmer, Columbine, 9/11, smartphones, O.J., Obama, Trump, Y2K, COVID–all the important stuff, as well as trivial minutia like Michael Jackson Marrying Lisa Marie Presley, Phantom Menace disappointment, and Woodstock ’99 ending in a fiery blaze to the tune of Limp Bizkit’s “Nookie.”
I left all of these predictions fairly vague, but undeniable in their accuracy and meaning when examined after the events took place.
Only problem was, I couldn’t sell it. I shopped it myself to all the major publishing houses, who returned it unread or didn’t respond at all. I couldn’t get a single publisher to take me seriously. I couldn’t get an agent to touch it, either.
I bought a computer as soon as I could afford it and created a web page called ‘90s Nostradamus. I included each chapter of the book on the site, and after about six months the visitor counter had reached a grand total of 237 people. That was it. World-changing, paradigm-shifting information, all completely ignored by the masses.
I eventually got work at a computer repair store whose manager was dazzled by how easily I solved the most difficult of issues on the primitive 486 machines that came through their doors with ease.
As the years rolled by, I almost forgot about my knowledge of the future. I opened a successful tech repair place of my own, and my life became pretty much what it had been in 2020–boring and routine. Safe. It wasn’t until 2015 that a reddit thread about ’90s Nostradamus caused the still-active website to go viral. I removed it and self-published the book as an ebook on Amazon, and as word spread of my eerily accurate predictions, my bank account balance entered the triple digits.
Now, I’m certainly no John Grisham. I can’t really write. The book was poorly written in the estimation of almost all critics, but it didn’t matter. It had become a phenomenon. The publishing companies were embarrassed that they’d ignored it and thus allowed me to become the most successful self-published author in history.
I appeared on every single talk show that invited me. The FBI paid me a visit regarding my 9/11 predictions. Many people called me a phony, and many people called me a prophet. I suppose they were both right.
December 31, 2020 rolled around again, but this time I faced it as an old man. A rich old man, at that. After all, I’d aged thirty years. Still single, though. Still alone. I preferred it that way. I loved fame and fortune, but I loved solitude. I also loved royalty checks and thumbing my nose at the Big Five in the press. It was a good life.
I went to bed early. When I woke up the next morning, the wall was yellow.