Every Preceding Thursday by Alex Friedman

I first noticed that Thursdays no longer counted for me during the end of the Fall semester. When I told them about the situation with my no-call-no-show days off, the administration of the College of Science did not laugh at me. Instead they designated the situation as a possible non-employee threat. However, they designated it C-class, low priority. Designation C-low is reserved for employees going through bad break-ups, or formerly promising careers that seem to have spawned unwarranted levels of false positives in lab work. It is a designation that suggests that while I may have some failing as an employee, it is likely not entirely my own fault.

So I went with it. I suppose I could have been louder about the situation, but no one seemed interested. I didn’t see any reason to let it dominate my peers’ perceptions of me. I decided I would start wearing nicer shoes, to offset the damage to my professional reputation. It worked quite well.

I was studying biophysics at the time and teaching a class which met on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I first noticed the problem because of a perplexing situation that arose in a Tuesday class. None of my students remembered class on the preceding Thursday. I became slightly irate.

“Does anyone have the answer to number three? We covered this in class on Thursday,” I said to thirty blank stares.

Silence.

“Anyone.”

Silence. Nervous glances.

“Hoodie kid in the back?” I pointed.

“Yeah, uh, Mr. Paschow, you weren’t here Thursday,” the hoodie kid in the back said.

Doctor Paschow. Yes. I was,” I said, “We covered zygotes.”

Silence.

“Anyone.”

Silence.

“Girl with the outdated laptop?” I pointed again.

“Professor Paschow, no offense sir, but I can state with observational certainty that you were not here at this classroom at the appointed class time on Thursday, the fourth of this month,” said the girl with an outdated laptop.

“I see,” I said.

I took the heavy animal biology text book and slammed it on my desk so that the thirty percent of the class that was asleep would join me briefly.

“Can you confirm, as a class, these observations?” I said softly.

Silence.

“Please raise your hands to confirm that I was not present at the appointed time in this classroom on the fourth of this month,” I requested.

Twenty one hands rose. I noted that angry looking backwards baseball-cap kid did not have his hand raised.

“Angry looking backwards baseball-cap kid, can you confirm my presence in this room at the appointed time for class last Thursday?” I asked him, pointing.

“Observationally? Or as a man of science?” He responded.

“Excellent question. You get an ‘A’ for participation today. Both, if you would,” I said.

“Thank you,” he said, adjusting his baseball cap to accentuate his flaring eyebrows as he walked to the whiteboard. He took up a marker and began to draw a time-line.

“You see, Professor, I have the unique observational position of having fallen asleep on my skateboard at exactly 9:59 AM in the hallway. At that point, you had not arrived to open the classroom,” he said, annotating the brief time-line.

“Go on,” I said. I shuffled through my desk to find a golden star sticker.

“So as I see it, only two possibilities exist, sir. Either you recall correctly arriving to teach and assigning homework, neither of which any member of the class recalls. Or your memory is flawed, no class took place, and we are an entire session behind the homework schedule,” he said, tapping his marker on the diverging chart for emphasis. “Both possibilities are equally terrifying.”

“Indeed they are,” I said, placing a gold star upon his forehead. “Indeed they are.”

I assigned three sessions worth of homework and dismissed the class.

The next day, Wednesday, I decided to be careful in my evening preparations. After my lab duties, I made sure to set my alarm for the morning’s class session. I laid out clothes and breakfast for the day. Everything in order, I went to bed early. Thursday morning, I was awoken by the clatter of the alarm going off, and spent a few harried seconds setting a snooze alarm. I was awoken by the clatter of the snooze alarm going off, and spent an additional few seconds turning off the alarm and cursing at myself. I prepared and went to class. I taught. I spent my office hours responding to angry student emails about the course load. Bellanie Fischer, the doctor next office over, asked if I would care to join her for a drink and a burger after hours. I declined, but complimented her on her recent Scientific American interview. This was an unexpected action on my part as I had been trying to work up the courage to ask her out for a number of weeks. She has very nice hair and displays panache in her fashion sense.

I went home and read journals for an hour and then prepared dinner. I settled in for the night and felt some regret for turning down Dr. Fischer’s offer. I then wrote the outline to a paper on my research before turning in for the night. At that point I had nearly forgotten about the odd class on Tuesday.

The next morning, Friday, I was leisurely about my morning routine. I got out of bed, stretched, watched the news on television. After perhaps an hour, I checked my email. I had fourteen messages from students letting me know they showed up to class on time, waited fifteen minutes, and then left. They said I had not arrived. I closed my eyes and pictured, clearly, scenes from class on Thursday morning. I remembered teaching, saying things I could still hear in my own voice as I had lectured.

It hadn’t counted. I hypothesized that perhaps I could experience Thursdays as long as they were my current present and future, but once they entered into precedence, the day I remembered no longer existed in reality.

Every preceding Thursday was insubstantial. They did not count.

I thought hard. What had I done yesterday that might still count? I was not starving, so perhaps I had eaten. There was something. My sent emails from Thursday were not there. They had not been written. They did not count. What about the alarm clocks? They still showed that I had set them for Thursday on Wednesday night. Wednesday had counted. That was something. What about discussions? Whom had I interacted with?

Bellanie Fischer.

I dressed and went to her office.

“Hello, Doctor Fischer,” I said. She looked up from her computer. She had a radio tuned to Science Friday.

“Hello, Doctor Paschow,” she said.

“Have I complimented you on your Scientific American interview yet?” I asked.

“No, I don’t believe you have,” she said. She tapped on her keyboard, still looking at me.

“I intended to yesterday. Congratulations. It’s well deserved, and it’s an honor to be brought into the hip-skull ratio controversy as the scientific community’s voice of reason,” I said.

“Thank you,” she said.

“Did you invite me out for a burger and a beer at The Upset after-hours yesterday?” I asked. The Upset was a local bar and grill commemorating an unexpected championship victory claimed by Massingbluff University’s baseball team. The team existed in a constant paradox of being both the most under-rated and the most over-rated sporting team on campus.

“No, I did not have the chance. But I intended to,” she said. She smiled at me, still typing.

“I see. Thank you, Doctor Fischer,” I said. I left her office and proceeded to my own.

The following week I tried an experiment. I did not pursue my responsibilities on Thursday. Instead I watched National Geographic, went bowling, and then wrote a few Carl Sagan quotes on my living room wall in permanent marker. This, in theory, would give me the answers to the question which I had jotted down in a notebook the night previous. The next morning I revisited the notebook to discover what I had learned.

Did what I remembered happening happen yesterday? I read the question, written in my longhand. I looked at the wall where Carl Sagan quotes should have been written. Nothing. I called the bowling alley and asked by phone if they had any record of my being there yesterday. Nothing. I looked at my ‘recently watched’ listing for the National Geographic episode from yesterday. Nothing. Evidence would suggest that my memories are inaccurate, I wrote in the notebook.

At this point I typed my formal report to hand in to the secretary of my department. I called the Human Resources office for the College of Science. I explained the situation to them. The secretary there, a Mr. Goodhumor, told me about the classification for the situation. I refrained from asking about ice cream. Contrary to his name, he sounded stern, and I thought I may need him as an ally. Departmental secretaries are the gatekeepers of academia. I told him I intended to look into the situation scientifically.

“That seems appropriate,” he said. “That is the sort of approach you get paid for around here.”

In class on Tuesday, after I had caught my students up by assigning another three sessions worth of homework, I posed an open response question.

“Class, say you found out that nothing you did on Thursdays actually counted anymore. You could do anything within those waking hours, and they would not factor into your future reality. What would you do? Write in your class ledger. Two-hundred words,” I said.

The responses I got ranged from droll to depraved. I referred several students to the campus mental wellness center, reminding them that the classwork did count, and that it was only the situation that was hypothetical. I did receive one situationally appropriate response. Comparing the ledger to my picture roster, I determined that the response came from angry baseball-cap kid. His name was apparently Carl. It fit him.

I believe the appropriate response would be to behave in a way that ignored relatively minor consequences, and considered maximum possible gain. First, actions under these guidelines would pose no major risk to me if this phenomenon suddenly ceased to remain in effect. Secondly, I would be able to experiment on my approaches to my various goals in a way that common cautiousness might not allow, possibly leading to better than usual results and informing my actions that would be permanent on other days of the week. Finally, this approach would likely be exhilarating.

I nodded as I read and put a gold sticker on his ledger.

The next Thursday, having bribed the campus security escort service and prepared a number of surveillance devices the night previous, I awoke and dressed in unusually snappy form. I went to breakfast, spent an excessive amount of money on eggs benedict, and whiled away three hours reading Hothouse. I then walked to Doctor Fischer’s office and invited her to lunch and a tour of the Burke Museum of Scientific Excellence. She agreed.

While we stared at an excellent scale model of a sperm whale attacking a colossal squid, Dr. Fischer put her hand on my shoulder. I flinched slightly.

“You only asked me out today because you don’t think Thursdays count,” she said. I had not mentioned the phenomenon to her.

“Ah. We seem to have a breach of professional privacy in the Science College’s HR management,” I said.

“No, I process HR forms for the department. You signed a form this term saying you understood that,” she said.

“Now that you mention it, I believe I did sign that form,” I said.

“Did you notice they updated the human fetus exhibits with a placard about my work?” She asked.

“I did. This museum has in its curators what it lacks in funding.” I cleared my throat. “I would have asked you here anyway. This was just supposed to be a test run to see if you liked my leisure suit.”

“I do. Who knows? I always thought Thursdays were strange. How could one tell if a Thursday was a simple product of the mind? Perhaps the day is a result of mass hysteria, a ritualized fantasy started some time in the last few months and with mentions added sporadically to the history books,” she mused.

“Actually, I set up extensive observational technology arrays last night. We’ll soon know if this is some mysterious phenomenon or the result of some hallucination.”

“Do you think you’re hallucinating?” She asked.

“No,” I said, “I usually don’t dream about angels.”

“Hmmm. Come up with a better line if it turns out this never happened,” she said.

Doctor Fischer kissed me on the cheek when I dropped her off at her apartment. I went home and went to bed early. I dreamed, I think.

The next morning I checked the array of webcams, motion detectors, and campus escort officers I had enlisted in tracking myself on my “day off”.

A very clear timeline of that morning emerged. I had woken up and engaged in a very efficient version of my morning routine. I had washed up, dressed, gone down the street, and ordered a bagel. I had eaten the bagel while I walked towards the buildings that form the College of Sciences. I had gone into a secondary building that houses some of the smaller labs. The security cameras there watched as I took out my ID card, unlocked a laboratory room in the basement, and entered. The room was labeled SUB-L-22. There were no cameras in that room. I did not leave until late that night. I went to a convenience mart where I got a slice of pizza which I ate on the way to my apartment. I entered my apartment and retired.

To the average observer, this would appear well within the limits of my usual behavior. I had not been overtly social, however my movements, though stiff even when viewed on the webcam, seemed normal enough. There was a certain subtlety about the version of myself I watched in that footage, though. I could tell it was not me. It was my body, but it was not me. It was as though I was being occupied by some other entity. I resolved to have a look at that sublevel laboratory. But first, I would attempt to ask out Doctor Fischer. I dialed her on the phone.

After two rings, Doctor Fischer picked up.

“Hello,” she answered.

“Hello, Doctor Fischer. This is Doctor Steven Paschow.” I said.

“How are you doing?” She asked.

“Very well. I was wondering if you would be interested in going to the Museum of Scientific Excellence with me this afternoon. Perhaps we could get lunch, too.”

“That’s funny,” she said, “I would have expected you to ask me out on a Thursday.”

“I did. You gave me some excellent advice, and I think I’ve worked out the kinks in the date,” I said.

As we ate lunch that afternoon, Dr. Fischer described to me the process of patenting her discoveries concerning the in utero environment as spacecraft life support system designs.

“Of course, with the current rate of progress in space travel, I will likely find myself writing the patent holdings into my will before I could find a way to develop them. Perhaps I could leave them to the department,” she concluded. She sipped at her iced tea. I noticed her earrings. They were tiny golden tadpoles.

“Why wouldn’t you leave them to your own children?” I asked.

“I would, except she’s more interested in social work,” Dr. Fischer said.

“There are similarities in your fields,” I said.

“You think so?” She said.

“Sure,” I said, “both fields seek to understand development, and neither accounts particularly well for lead poisoning.”

“Or cadmium,” she said.

We found ourselves later in front of the excellent whale-and-squid exhibit. Sadly, with repeated viewings, one begins to notice the paint degradation.

“I read about a woman who was infected with squid spermatophores when she bit into a piece of calimari,” Dr. Fischer said. “They had to be removed from her gums surgically.”

“Terrifying,” I said.

“Just another reason not to eat sentient sea life,” she said.

“Care to go and examine your plaque in the next room?” I asked.

“Is that an imposition, Doctor Paschow?” She asked.

“I fail to follow,” I said.

Dr. Fischer explained on the way. I found myself slightly vexed, and then she kissed me. It would seem that I am a more successful suitor when I am oblivious to my own impulses. Dr. Fischer informed me that our next date would be on the following Tuesday. She said that Tuesdays are overlooked by the machinations of time and space. I suppose that’s why I never have them off for holidays.

The next day was Saturday. I made breakfast for myself and walked to the laboratory facility that housed SUB-L-22. I found that my access card admitted me into the facility based on my title, though I had no legitimate reason to be there. I also found that angry baseball-cap kid was a weekend security escort there. I told him that if I did not return from SUB-L-22 in thirty minutes, he should call the police. He asked if I would like an escort to the room. I told him that there were some things a man should undertake alone, but that this was unlikely to be one of them. He walked me down to the room. My access card worked on the door. I gave him a thumbs-up, and entered.

The door closed and locked behind me before my escort could follow. In the room were several enormous glass tanks of what seemed like amniotic fluid. I guessed at their nature only by the illuminated floating bodies within them. The floating forms were about the size and shape of a beagle, and may have resembled that comforting breed had it not been for the exoskeleton and the gills. I suppose if one imagined a cross between a beagle and a dunkleosteus, one would not be far off. In the center of the room stood a larger tank with a decidedly larger and perhaps more developed specimen inside it. It moved. Several cameras and sensors attached to the tank buzzed mechanically and began to follow me. I tested the lock on the door to no avail. Twice.

The thing growing in the central tank seemed to awaken. It opened its eyes and a pair of long, insectoid antennae unfurled on its head. The creature stared at me and for a moment I returned its gaze. Its eyes were like a beagle’s too, sad, and perhaps loving.

“Hello, host-father,” a computer generated voice said from speakers mounted on the walls. I shuddered.

“Hello,” I said.

“Do not be afraid,” the voice said. The beagle-fetus-fish made a gracious gesture, floating in its tank. A sort of floating curtsey or dancer’s flourish.

“I sort of expected you to be rogue graduate students from the psychiatric program, with experimental hallucinogens or something,” I said. My voice trembled slightly.

“I am [ELECTRICAL STATIC], of the [ELECTRICAL STATIC] colonial wavelength. I hail from far away. I have been intercepting your consciousness every Thursday for some time now, so that your body can serve as a host and caretaker while our bodies grow,” said the voice. It paused as I looked around hurriedly. The creature watched me and floated.

“Oh, go on. I’m listening,” I said. I found a chair and wheeled it over in front of the tank to sit down. “Here we are. Sorry. Go on.”

“We are the [ELECTRICAL STATIC]. We traveled the great vastness of space by encoding ourselves into radio waves to be decoded and regrown wherever our signal could be received. We proliferate without the bonds of space and time in this way. Look upon us, host-father, your gracious foster children,” the voice said. The creature held for questions.

“Why Thursday?” I asked.

“Your subconscious opted for Thursday instead of Friday,” the voice said.

“Oh. Why me?” I asked.

“You are the only human with access to these facilities who still uses an alarm clock radio,” the voice said.

“You don’t say. The only one?” I asked.

“Yes. Everyone else uses a cell phone,” the voice said.

“And you enslave my consciousness every Thursday morning through my clock radio?” I asked.

“You are not enslaved, host-father. Your subconscious agreed to compensation of breakfast, dinner, and eight thousand dollars cash upon completion of the six week colonial gestation period. You subconsciously signed a document saying you understood all of that,” the voice said.

“Fascinating,” I said, leaning back in my chair. I found I was having difficulty grasping all of this. We measured each other, briefly and in meditative silence.

All I could think to say was, “You know, I think we may be violating a few patents.”

______________________________________________________________________________

Alex Friedman was described in a eulogy as a fictitious character created as part of an elaborate hoax. He writes, works, and studies at Miami University. Alex would like to thank the talented writers who helped workshop this story.

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