Edited by Brian J. White

December 2013


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: December 21st, 2010.

Dale is shaking.

He throws open the door to his rat’s nest apartment, shoulders his way in, immediately moves to remove the gloves on his hand — biting the woolen fingers with his teeth and flinging them to the ground.

His hands are rusty-red. The palm-lines etched with old red. The creases in his fingers flaked with it.


From inside his coat closet: a moan, a thump, then:


A mumbled entreaty, not a yell. Dale ignores it, goes to the sink, washes the blood off. No soap? No Brillo pad?

“Jesus, I live like an animal over here,” he mutters, the water over his hands turning the color of cherry Kool-Aid before swirling down the drain. He grabs a dishtowel and uses that to wipe the blood from his mitts. Now the towel is stained red. It’s evidence, he thinks.

Of course, what kind of evidence could it be?

It’s his blood, after all.

Still, he finds an old Wal-Mart bag under the sink, bundles the towel up in there and shoves it in a cabinet behind some dishes. A lame hiding place for a thing that probably doesn’t need to be hidden.

He looks around. Disgust fills him like a hot, foul wind bulging his sails. Susannah will never go for a place like this. He needs to upgrade.

Which is becoming rapidly possible, thanks to the Box. Which hangs heavy in his bag.

From inside the closet, another scrape-thump. Then:

“Hello. Help. Hello. Help.”

Dale opens the door.

Other Dale stares back. Bound to a chair. Blood matting hair to his temple, his cheek. His eyes gain focus, then lose it, then gain it again.

You,” Other Dale — Concussed _Dale — says. “Or should I say, _me?” He makes a bubbling sound that might be a laugh.

“You okay in here?”

“Zippity-Doo-Dah,” Concussed Dale says. “I can’t feel my face.”

A fact that’s obvious by the way he opens his mouth to speak and spit bridges the upper and lower lip. White foam collects at the sides of his mouth. He licks at it with a pasty tongue.

“You don’t look good.”

“That’s ‘cause you hit me in the head.”

“I had to.”

“You didn’t,” Concussed Dale slurs. Then, during a moment of focus, his eyes flick downward, casting a gaze toward Dale’s hands. “You got blood on your hands. I don’t mean that pheta — unhh — metaphorically. I mean it literally even though nobody seems to know how to use the word literally anymore, you know? Sad what people do to words.”

Concussed Dale sometimes rambles on like this: periods of quiet or mumbling punctuated by a flurry of run-on sentences and musings. A symptom of the head wound? Or something else?

Right now, Dale doesn’t much care. Because of the blood on his hands.

“You really did it,” Concussed Dale says. “You went ahead with it.”

“Shut up.”

“You’re a murder. Murderer. You murdered him.”

“Not him. Me. Which means it can’t be murder.”

“Suicide, then.”

“It’s not — no! It’s not suicide. Because I’m still here!”

“So whaddya call it?”

“I… I…” He grinds his teeth. He blurts: “I’m just eliminating redundancies.”

“How corporate of you.”

“I said shut up. I’ll duct tape your mouth.”

“Please don’t do that.” An earnest plea: Concussed Dale’s eyes shine with tears. “My nose is stuffed up and I’m afraid I won’t be able to breathe.”

“Then just keep quiet for now.”

“You got it. I got it. Me got it. Someone got it.” His eyelids flutter like curtains nudged by an erratic breeze. He laughs again: a burbling, drunken sound. Then his eyes close and his chin drops to his chest. He breathes loud: the sound of a fat, asthmatic hound snoozing.

Good. A moment of peace.

Dale paces. What to do? Susannah would know. She was always so smart. Another reason he needs her — needs her — back in his life.

But he doesn’t have her in his life. Not yet.

So who does he have? Besides himself?

Oh, shit.

He just called him. He doesn’t want to have to call him again.

He holds his cell phone like it’s a bird he’s trying to choke to death. He winces, squints, bites a lip—

Then he acquiesces and makes the call.

“Dale,” says the voice on the other line. “How’d the casino —”

“Bill, I need your car.”

“My car — what? No, bro, you can’t borrow my car.”

“Yes, bro, c’mon, please. I’m moving.”

“Moving? You didn’t say anything about moving—”

“Apartments. To a new apartment. I just found out that I got a job, a better job, and…”

“A job? Whoa. Congrats, Dale. That’s really great. What is it?”

Damn, Dale thinks. Lies are like gremlins that got wet. One becomes two, two becomes four. Multiplicative. The gravity of quicksand. “Computers,” he blurts out. “Systems… ana… analyst.”

“You know stuff about computers?”

“They taught us in rehab.” They don’t teach shit in rehab except How Not To Ingest or Inject Drugs When You Want Them, but again: lies beget lies beget lies. Lies, all the way down. “One of my sponsors on the inside got me the gig, and it pays well, so — you know. Time for new digs.”

“That’s cool. But my car, you know — I don’t know. Cheryl, man…”

Cheryl. Goddamn Cheryl. Some small voice in the back of his head says, You know she’s right about you, she was right to withhold your father’s money, she always had you pegged for the scum-nuts that you are… But he doesn’t have time for that kind of internal dissent and so he bites back any negative commentary and instead says:

“I get it, but me and you can come out the other side through all this. I want to mend fences.” Do I, really? “But if that’s gonna happen, I need a show of support for the changes I’m making.”

Silence on the other end.

Dale tries harder: “I’m not gonna have it for long. You want us to be bros again, then this is how that happens. Bro.” He hates that word: bro. But he says it anyway because when in Rome, you better speak Roman. Isn’t that the saying? Whatever.

Now, just breathing on the other end. Heavy breathing. That’s how Dale knows Bill is seriously thinking about this: when his brain churns, he turns into a real mouthbreather.

“Okay,” he says. “I’ll bring you the keys—”

“I’ll come to you. On the train. And Bill: thanks.”


Time to go get his body from outside the casino.


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: December 21st, 2010.

Dale is shaking.

He’s got the Box in a knapsack. And ninety-nine bucks in his pocket. His last ninety-nine bucks. All the money he was able to scramble together from his checking account, from his couch cushions, from coins in drawers to dollars found in old shorts and jeans.

On each dollar and each coin he does not see a president’s face.

He sees Susannah’s face.

She’s why he’s doing this. She’s why he’s here.

The Box feels heavy in his bag. Heavy with promise. With potential.

Trash skitters across the Parx Casino parking lot, buoyed by the whipping wind. It’s early. Not a lot of cars in the parking lot. Mostly the old biddies coming here to pull the slots.

He’s been working on this plan for the last 24 hours. He’s barely slept. The other him — Concussed Dale — was no help. Okay, fine, probably in part because of the head wound, but also: through all that mumbling he’s pretty belligerent. And he rambles. I’m not like that, Dale thinks. It’s the injury.

In a sense, the injury has made That Dale a different person entirely. Not even related to This Dale. The divergence in time coupled with the clobbered noggin was like the two paths in that poem: Dale went one way, Concussed Dale went another way. And now Dale can’t look at the injured version of him as, well, a version of him. Not anymore.

Concussed Dale was just a distraction, an annoyance, when working out the plan. So Dale had to shut him up in a closet.

If only so he could think.

This Box, it has rules.

It’ll send him back in time ten minutes — right to the same place he’s standing when he pushes the button. That’s a consideration. He can’t hit that button inside the casino. People will wig out. Besides, casinos, they’re big on the surveillance. Any sign of cheating, four guys in suits will be on him like chimps on a banana, and that’ll be that.

So, he’ll go inside.

First: his money into chips.

Then, head straight to the roulette table.

He did his research: it’s quick, it’s easy, it pays 35:1, which means for every dollar spent, he’ll win thirty-five bucks. That’s what Bill told him. Bill gambles. Sometimes, pretty hard. (Probably, Dale thinks with no small bitterness, with Dad’s money.) Of course his lunkfuck brother tried to talk him out of it: blah blah blah, your drug habit was already a gamble, bro, where’d you get the money, dude, I don’t want to see you piss your life away, chief. Dale just asked for the information and then hung up when he got it.

So: again, roulette table.

When he gets to the table, he’ll mark the time.

Then see where the next ball lands.

Then it’s right back outside to press the smooth black button and activate the red Box.

Dale takes a deep breath. Tries to steady himself.

This is the way forward.

The Box seems heavier, now. Like a leaden shot-put.

He goes inside.


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: December 21st, 2010.

Dale is shaking.

He’s got the Box in a knapsack. And ninety-nine bucks in his pocket. His last ninety-nine bucks. All the money he was able to scramble together from his checking account, from his couch cushions, from coins in drawers to dollars found in old shorts and jeans.

On each dollar and each coin he does not see a president’s face.

He sees Susannah’s face.

She’s why he’s doing this. She’s why he’s here.

The Box feels heavy in his bag. Heavy with promise. With potential.

Trash skitters across the Parx Casino parking lot, buoyed by the whipping wind. It’s early. Not a lot of cars in the parking lot. Mostly the old biddies coming here to pull the slots.

He’s been working on this plan for the last 24 hours. He’s barely slept—

“It’s done,” Other Dale says.

Dale whirls about. He’s standing next to himself. Mirror image. Practically nose to nose. A first, absurd thought: My breath smells bad.

“Wh… what?” Dale asks.

Other Dale — New Dale — says: “I’m back. I’ve got the number. I don’t have long, just a few minutes to get to the roulette table.” New Dale puts out his hand, slaps the palm. “But I need the Box first.”

“You can’t — what? I’m not giving you the Box.”

“This is the deal. I need the Box. Just in case things go badly.”

“But it’s my Box.”

“No, it’s my Box. I’m the origin. You’re Other Dale.”

“Whoa,” Dale says, laughing like it’s not funny, “you’re Other Dale. And I’m the origin point because — because…” But he can’t parse it. Because suddenly he knows he’s not. He’s Other Dale. The Dale standing before him — New Dale, like New Coke — is actually old Dale, original Dale, the O.D. who’s already gone through the casino, gotten the chips, gotten the time, gotten the number on the ball in the little slot after the wheel’s gone round—

The truth is, he planned for this. He, him, they.

By the time this Dale reaches into his back pocket—

It’s too late.

The knife he was reaching for is now pressed into his middle. A cold ray of light cutting through him, then twisted and shoved upward into his heart. Everything is loud. Everything echoes. His heartbeat is like a timpani booming in every cell of his body.

New Dale — Original Dale — looks horrified.

“We knew this was a possibility,” he says. “It’s why we brought the knife. Right?”

“Susannah,” Dale says.

Original Dale nods. “This is for her, this for Susannah. Just remember that. Okay? It’s time to — it’s time to sleep now.”


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: December 21st, 2010.

Dale is shaking.

He comes out of the Parx Casino, heavy with cash. A 35:1 payout means his $99 just became $3465. He’s buzzing. Every part of him feels like a live wire, snapping and sparking. A fly tapping against the inside of a jar. One of those cymbal monkeys chattering his teeth and banging his drums.

He feels alive.

It’s a ways away from what it’s like on Oxy. That drug brought him down, laid him low, buried him underneath a murmuring frequency — it was warm and soft and forever. But this is not that. This is cold and sharp. This is a thumbtack pinning the moment to a corkboard.

This is present. This is now.

What a fucking rush.

Then he remembers: the cold sharp now, like a knife, a knife stuck in his gut. Or in his doppelganger’s gut.

The body is here still. In the parking lot.

Parx is a new casino. Half the parking lot around the back of the building is still a dirty, ground-up mess. Mud and dumpsters. The body is in a dumpster. Buried under a few 2x4s and a ratty piece of tarp he found wrapped around the base of a half-constructed streetlight.

Dragging the body over there gave him some pause. An old couple spotted him as they were climbing down out of their conversion van. He gave them a little wave, said, My brother had a little too much to drink last night. Lost all our money, too!

And the old couple just stared. The man shrugged. The woman looked lost. Dale kept dragging the corpse of his dead self (and what a head-knocker that idea is) to the dumpster.

Pockets full of money.

Dumpster full of death.

A little part of him thinks: I’ll just leave. Leave and forget it. Give his corpse the middle finger and say to hell with it. He’s already left one body in this city — though by now, who even knows what happened to it? — when that tweaker gunned him down.

But this can’t come back to haunt him.

If it does, it could jeopardize everything. Getting back together with Susannah is going to be delicate. It’ll be him threading a needle in the dark, with mittens on his hands. He can’t fuck this up.

So that means this needs to be handled.

That means he needs to hide the body.

He needs to bury it.


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: December 21st, 2010.

Dale is shaking.

Frustration has seized him.

He needs to bury this body but — gods, where?

When he was a kid, he went to camp in the country. They called it Camp Onas, but of course the kids called it Camp Anus because, you know, kids. This wasn’t summer camp. This was during the school year. Buncha students from his elementary school took a week and stayed over, and while there they learned about all kinds of nature crap: understanding photosynthesis, identifying squirrel tracks or owl barf, composting.

They learned real stuff, too, while there. How to light your own farts. How to soak a towel and whip a kid right between the shoulder blades. How to overturn a canoe in the lake and make out with a girl underneath.

Dale made out with — jeez, what was her name? Martha. No! Marcy. Marcy Blatt. It was awkward. Their teeth clacked. Their tongues fought for territory. Her breath smelled like chapstick and his nose whistled.

He still remembers that as one of his best nights ever.

Camp Anus — er, Onas — was in the country. Beyond the Bucks County suburbs. Among the fields and farms and forests.

And so it’s there that Dale turns his attention.

He gets Bill’s car — a Honda Accord, roomy trunk space, which is good since it now contains a body swaddled in a fraying tarp.

He drives it out of the city and into the country.

Gray December skies give way to pissing new-winter rain.

The fields and farms and forests, though, are not as he remembers: so many new developments. Lots of mini-mansions, duplexes, and townhomes. Like the suburbs were a virus given over to a slow, almost glacial, duplication, the contagion of bedroom communities and planned-and-canned neighborhoods forming a kind of creeping blight of buzz-cut lawns and plastic-looking white picket fences.

He roams and roves, circling this way and that, soon lost down back roads, turned around in cul-de-sacs, wound up in a labyrinth of Suburus-in-driveways and potholed asphalt.

Frustration mounts. Anxiety bites.

He thinks: I’ll just get out, roll the body in a ditch, and drive away. But winter will preserve it. Some shitty little kid on a too-expensive bike will pedal up and find it.

Then, just as he’s about to bite the steering wheel and punch the radio, the houses start to thin out. Little pockets of black, leafless trees gather like gossiping skeletons. And then: fields. Farms. A silo. A haywagon. The smell of cowshit filtering in through the dashboard vents.

He drives another hour, the sky gone dim with evening’s approach, before he finds it. The pumpkin patch.

The rain flecks against his cheeks as he pulls the car over and steps out. The farm is a quarter-mile away. Looks as decrepit as the field. The field is overgrown with moldering pumpkins and snarled black vine. Weeds and muck. This is perfect.

He goes into the back. Gets the shovel.

Lifting the blade, he tugs the tarp. A corner of it peels away.

It shows his face. His own face.

Ashen. Mouth open. As if to plead.

He should feel horror, maybe. Shock at what he’d done. But it doesn’t feel that way. It did. For maybe, what, five minutes? But now it’s interesting. Murder would be something different. It’s the act of pulling a thread from a tapestry — a unique thread that contributes to the beauty of the thing.

But like he told Concussed Dale—

This is just managing redundancy.

He closes Dead Dale’s jaw. The jaw is stiff. The teeth clack.

He pokes at the cheeks with a finger. Mortified flesh moves with the stubborn thrusts and forms a morbid, rictus smile.

It stays that way.

“Let’s go pumpkin-picking,” Dale tells his dead doppelganger.


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: December 21st, 2010.

Dale is shaking.

Digging a grave in the mud in the rain is hard work.

He hasn’t put in this kind of work in—

Let’s just go with “forever,” he thinks.

And so, his muscles ache. His hands tremble. He can barely lift his arms above his shoulders without them feeling like they might just drop off into the slurry.

He pitches aside the shovel. It plonks into the muck.

It occurs to him:

I’m standing on my own grave.

He laughs.

Then, he pulls up his backpack, withdraws the Box. Rain beads on it. Fingernail curls of moonlight trapped in the drops.

He kisses it.

“You’re my little luckmaker,” he says. But then he realizes: that’s not it, not really. This isn’t making luck. This is him changing luck. Owning luck. With one press of the button he can undo any wrong, magnify any right, and fix his entire life.

Just by going back in time ten minutes.

“This is for you, Susannah.”

Then he marches back to his car, mud glomming onto his shoes. He whistles, confident that now everything is going to change.

© 2013 Chuck Wendig

About the author

Chuck Wendig

Chuck Wendig is a novelist, screenwriter, and game designer. He is the author of the novels BLACKBIRDS, MOCKINGBIRD, THE BLUE BLAZES, and UNDER THE EMPYREAN SKY. He is an alumni of the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab and is the co-author of the Emmy-nominated digital narrative COLLAPSUS. He lives in Pennsyltucky with wife, son, and two dopey dogs. You can find him on Twitter @ChuckWendig and at his website,, where he frequently dispenses dubious and very-NSFW advice on writing, publishing, and life in general.