I was still staring into the yellow bag and wondering what the hell an Apple iPhone 7 might be when the whole thing was snatched out of my hands. Stuart Cross, smart, good-looking, the sort of pretty, thuggish lowlife who had no problem getting girlfriends, had my yellow bag, and was peering inside it, laughing. “Whatcha got, Pig? Looks nice! Looks expensive! Much too nice for the likes of you! Hey, Squint!” He called to one of his comrades, the vile Tom London, the sort of mate you could rely on to hold your coat while you thumped the shit out of your enemies, and tossed the bag across the locker room to him. London snatched it out of the air. “What’s this?” he said, and stared uncomprehendingly at the writing on the bag. “Never heard of these guys,” he said, offering his expert opinion. He took a look inside, registered the exotic presence of whatever it was in the white box, but shrugged and threw the lot back to Cross, who made a big show out of dropping it. “Oops!” he said, pantomiming shock, and bent to pick it up, shaking it to hear if it was broken. “Sounds okay. Should we have a look?”
Squint laughed. “Yeah, let’s have a look!”
“That’s mine,” I said, stepping forward, trying to steal it back. Cross was too fast, moving out of my path, and lobbed the package across to Squint, who snatched it and tossed it back.
This was my world. This was everything. Every day was this. Everything turned into a game of Keep Away from me, “Pig”. And here I was again, standing between Cross and Squint, taller and more solid than either of them, jumping to try to catch the bag, but they had all kinds of tricks. They had other confederates, too, and they tossed it to them when I looked like I might be about to get it. It seemed to go on for ages, back and forth and back and forth, and it was, based on the howls of laughter from everyone involved and the big crowd of kids gathered round to watch and cheer, and chant “Pig! Pig! Pig!”, the most hilarious thing ever, or at least this week.
The yellow JB HiFi bag was gone. I never saw it disappear. Now it was just the white box flying around the locker area, passing between many happy hands, between everyone’s hands but mine. I could have screamed. I wanted it back. I didn’t know what the thing was, but I understood that it was something important and special. That someone had put it in my locker, somehow, for me. But then this. It was always this.
“Come on, Pig! You have to put in some effort!” Cross was saying, to shouts and hoots of laughter, and even a bit of applause. We all had Maths class at any moment. I was standing there with my books and my Maths file and everything, and there was, for a moment, a feeling deep inside me, that was telling me to cut my losses here, to give up. To follow the classic, time-worn advice passed down to bullied kids everywhere: ignore the bullies and they’ll get bored and give up. They’ll go away.
I wasn’t convinced. In my experience, from times when I’d conducted this experiment, it just made the bullies try harder. They interpreted your response as a communications problem. They needed to go harder and louder and more violent. They needed to up their campaign. Because it was a campaign, with goals. The goal was the total destruction of the target. What that might mean, in practical terms, was poorly understood, but the target dissolving into tears whenever you were nearby, or behaving in an abject, submissive way towards you, were seen as good indicators that the campaign was working. The target was broken, humiliated.
I’d had more than ten years of this sort of bullshit. My very first day of primary school, back when it was called “Grade One” rather than “Year One”, a kid pushed me out of the line as we queued before going into the classroom to begin the day. And it had been every day ever since. The faces and names changed, the tactics changed, the ingenuity of the attacks changed, but the point, the ultimate goal, was the same. I was to be destroyed. And everything important and special to me had to be destroyed, too.
The white Apple iPhone 7 box was on the floor. They were playing soccer with it, kicking it up and down the main hallway in the locker area. Kicking it hard, and it crashed against the walls, against the steel struts supporting the lockers. I was in the middle of it, trying to catch it, to grab it, but just when I managed to get a hand on it, someone would kick or stomp that hand, lr just kick me in general, anywhere about my person would do.
Then, in the middle of the frenzy, the deafening hilarity, the wonderful game of it, I lunged with my bleeding hands for it, and Cross launched a savage kick at the side of my head. He clobbered me, and I collapsed to the floor, stunned, my vision dark and blurred, full of queasy pain and disorientation. I held my head, determined not to cry. I would not give them the satisfaction. I could not let them win. I sat there, holding myself, hurting, even breathing hurt.
Then I noticed that everyone was gone. I was alone in the locker area. I blinked a few times, confused. How did I miss that?
Staring around me, I saw the white Apple iPhone 7 box next to me. It was battered and crunched, torn in places and the pristine white was scuffed and marked. It looked the way I felt. It looked like someone had jumped up and down on it several times.
I picked it up, my whole body aching as I moved. Shaking the box, expecting to hear fragments, I heard nothing. It seemed solid.
So either they’d opened the box and made off with the iPhone, or it was still in there, in whatever condition it might be. It had to be broken. The thought did make me cry. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to get this to me, and now look. Ruined. I screamed and sobbed and hated the world. I thought of the poor man who’d been killed in my bedroom. I understood that he, and his murderer, were somehow connected to this white box. It could not be a coincidence. But look, already stuffed. Because people are vile. I hated everything about my life. The voices I often heard in my head, circling and circling, screaming at me, sometimes told me how much better this world, and all the people in it, especially my family, would be if I were gone. How my departure would solve a lot of problems. Because what was I contributing, anyway? Wasn’t I just a mouth to feed? A drain on my parents’ strained finances? And wasn’t it my fault that they were the way they were? I knew that was true. And that was the thing about the voices: they were persuasive. They made sense. I couldn’t argue with them. They were right.
And yet, something kept me here. I held the white box. I hardly dared open it. The lid was already half off. There was a photo of the thing on the top of the box, this Apple iPhone. It was funny-looking, like nothing I’d ever seen. It appeared to be a telephone.
My head still awhirl from the kicking, throbbing with pain, I managed to get the lid off the box. It was very tight.
Then, the unexpected: several printed pages of writing. It seemed to be a letter. It started with, “Dear Past Robbie” and went on from there.
But before I even got to the text of the letter–from, it seemed, my Future Self? A version of me in the future had sent me this? Actual time travel? I was thinking, my brain exploding, about what Dad said earlier about the man he met in the pub last night, who asked him what he would do if he had a time machine? Surely not a coincidence. It seemed likely that same man had left this package in my locker. But why?
Then the letter itself. What size paper was that? I was used to quarto and foolscap. And the text: I’d seen print from electric typewriters, like the IBM Selectric, that looked futuristic, and very different from the product you got from regular typewriters. But this? Was it even typing? There were no impressions in the paper, as from something hitting it. It looked like the print you would get in a book. But how the hell would you get that from any sort of typewriter? I’d very faintly heard of “word processors” but knew little about them.
Then there was the gadget itself, which I found cocooned in layers of plastic that was filled with bubbles of air. I’d never seen anything like it. Future Robbie had gone to a lot of trouble to protect this thing, I was thinking, and only then realised: because he would remember this morning, and everything that happened, the pounding Cross and his mates gave the box. He remembered this whole scene.
He didn’t kill himself. He didn’t listen to the voices. He survived.
I turned to the letter. I had to find out how this bastard, this whole planet, had survived.