Sometimes magic happens through ancient rites, glowing crystals, magic wands, or unicorns. Sometimes it happens via Craigslist.
Dave can pinpoint the exact moment that he realized his life was complete and utter shit. The term 'rock bottom' usually describes something much more dramatic, like punching a cop or sucking dick for crack. Dave's rock bottom creeps in slowly one morning when he wakes up with a hangover and his wife looming over him.
"You didn't get home until three in the morning. I know because you woke me up stumbling around like an idiot."
She doesn't even sound angry. She just sounds resigned, like she's grown used to his behavior. He remembers when she used the yell at him, and somehow the resignation is worse.
"I gotta go. There's cereal in the pantry."
He watches her walk to the bedroom door, the ugly green fabric of her work shirt assaulting his eyeballs. Her brown hair is a little tangled in the back and he remembers when she used to take the time to braid it or curl it or twist it up with clippy things.
"Hey, Angie," he calls, and she turns to look at him. "Brush your hair. It looks like shit."
She grimaces, but he hears her go into the bathroom. He should apologize, he thinks. She doesn't deserve to take his bullshit when she's about to work a double shift at the gas station.
Shame hits him like it always does when he thinks of her sitting at the counter in that drab place, selling cigarettes to teenagers with fake IDs and talking idiots through using the pay-at-the-pump. He ought to be able to provide for his own wife, for fuck's sake. Unfortunately, the construction company he works for is going through a dry spell right now, losing bids left and right, and they need Angie's paycheck to cover the mortgage.
He waits until he hears the back door close before he rolls out of bed and goes into the bathroom. He looks at himself in the mirror critically. He looks disgusting, like always.
He could have stuck with drywalling, which at least provided some exercise, but he'd started driving the crane about ten years back, and now he looks like he sits on his ass all day, which he does. His belly is big enough that he can't even suck it in anymore. It's just always there, a flabby reminder of how far he's fallen.
He's not bald, but his hair is noticeably thin on top and his hairline is creeping back at a steady pace. His face is haggard, with a sickly gray tinge, probably from the hangover. Or from the fact that his stubble is starting to go silvery.
He's old. Old and fat and pathetic. He's turning forty-two in a few months, but he looks older than that. He's got hardly any friends to speak of. He's got credit card debt up to his eyeballs. He's never cheated on his wife, but he thinks about guys damn near every time he jerks off, even though he tries to pretend like he doesn't. And his wife has given up on him ever being anything but a Lima loser, even though they live in Zanesville now, which isn't much of an improvement.
He looks at himself again and realizes that he has given up on being anything but a Lima loser.
That's his rock bottom.
And the fact that he's hit rock bottom explains why he does something so colossally stupid not even an hour later.
After he's shaved off his graying stubble and showered, he makes himself a bowl of cereal and sits down in front of their crappy old computer, intending to check the want ads online. He's sure it'll be the same as when he'd looked last night, but their checking account is getting dangerously low and he needs to make some money.
It's the same old story – no one is hiring – so he pulls up Craigslist. It's an antiquated site now, a vestige of a bygone era, but some people still use it, mostly for sleazy anonymous hookups. He's gone through the men-seeking-men ads so many times, so sorely tempted, but he's never allowed himself to do anything more than look. Regardless, it's still a good place to make a few bucks in the past doing home repairs or odd jobs. Last winter, he'd gotten so desperate that he'd taken on some jobs shoveling snow. It's not something he'd ever brag about, but honest money is honest money.
He's clicking through the "Help Wanted" section dispassionately, ignoring the obvious scams and trying to find something that's worth his time, when he sees a strange ad titled, Hey! David! Wake Up!. He clicks on it before he can think about it.
It reads: Fed up with your life? Wish you could change things? Stuck in your own personal hell? You're not alone! We've helped hundreds of people fix their present by revisiting their past. Right those old wrongs and achieve the life you deserve! Our rates are reasonable. Contact Vera at 555-PAST today. Don't wait any longer. You're not getting any younger, any slimmer, any richer, or any closer to the love life you want by sitting on your behind in front of a computer, David. ;)
The winky face should be enough to put him off, but... His name... He shakes his head. It's obviously garbage. Some past-life regression bullshit where some woman in a flowing dress will 'hypnotize' you by waving a pocket watch around, you wake up thinking you used to be Cleopatra's pet bunny and it fixes your life. And they probably just pick a random name – David is certainly common enough – and they hope that some loser will think that there's some magic at work.
It's ridiculous. For every guy named David who sees this, there must be hundreds of people named Paul or Susan or Frank who wonder why the heck there's an ad addressing them as 'David' on Craigslist. It's just a silly coincidence.
But even though he knows that, he's re-reading the ad before he can click away. He isn't getting any younger or slimmer or richer, but those are worries that apply to most people. And the love life, thing, well... He is married. He and Angie get along just fine most of the time, when money isn't an issue. And when he can get it up for her.
Grimacing, he snatches his cell phone off the desk and dials the number before he can think better of it.
"Hello, David. I knew you would call."
Dave almost drops the phone before he realizes, duh, caller ID. Modern technology – letting faux psychics fuck with people since the late nineties.
"I don't know why I'm even –"
"David, this is your fate. Look around yourself," the voice says. It sounds like an older woman, and her voice is surprisingly businesslike. No affected accent or spooky quavering. "You're far from satisfied with your lot in life, yes?"
"That would apply to anyone who'd be desperate enough to call this number," Dave points out drily, wondering why he hasn't hung up yet. "Tell me something I don't know."
"I know you'd be happier if you'd married him instead of Angela."
Dave does drop the phone then. He scrabbles for it, snatching it back to his ear. "Who is this?" he demands, his heart pounding. She'd said 'him,' like she knows something specific, and he tries to run through a list of people who could qualify. There was that guy that he worked with, a few years back, the one who offered to blow him when they were both a little drunk, and Dave had been so tempted, but had stammered that he was married and the subject had never come up again.
Or the dude from the first construction job he'd landed, the one who'd been straight as an arrow, but Dave had had the hots for him so badly that he'd been afraid he'd give himself away with the staring.
"I'm talking about Kurt," the woman says, and Dave can't breathe for a second.
Kurt. He hadn't considered Kurt because he won't even allow himself to think about him, so he's definitely never breathed a word to anyone else. The woman sounds too old to be one of his former classmates from McKinley, but some people are pretty good at changing their voices.
"Who is this?" he asks again, intending it to come out as vaguely threatening, but even to his own ears, his voice sounds plaintive and scared.
"My name is Vera, and I can help you."
She gives him an address on Pine Street, easy enough to find, and then she hangs up. She doesn't tell him when to come, but he's already putting his shoes on. Maybe she knew that.
He shakes his head. No, there's no way some crazy woman can see inside his head – can see his past. Just. No.
He's only going because something very bad is afoot. Someone out there knows. He'd often worried that maybe there had been someone lurking in the locker room that day, someone who had seen things and would tell on him. Just because it never came out in high school, well... Although, it is very strange to think that someone's been lying in wait all this time to, what? Blackmail him? Good luck. He's got shit to his name.
Unless they want some drywall hung, they're barking up the wrong tree.
He's going to check it out, though, because the whole thing is fucked up to the max, and he's not going to just let it go. Not once she said... that name.
Even in the face of weirdness, he's not going to let his mind go there. He closes himself off, forcing his brain to focus only on the tasks of finding his keys and making sure he has his wallet. He takes out the last remaining credit card that doesn't have a negative balance and sticks it in the junk drawer next to their check book, just in case.
Angie has their ATM card and he's got less than thirty bucks in his wallet, so if he's walking into some kind of hold-up, they're not going to get much.
Satisfied that he's safe enough, he goes out to the broken down Festiva, parked to the side of the garage. Angie had taken the 'good' car, and he prays the old Ford starts.
It does, and he drives carefully, hyper-aware of his surroundings, mostly just because he can't let his mind wander. Bad thoughts could creep in.
When he gets to the right block, he parallel parks and starts down the street. He walks back and forth past it three times before he spots it, a tiny door sandwiched in between two buildings that has nothing on it but the street address. He tries the door and it's unlocked. It opens directly to a flight of stairs without even enough space for a doormat.
Dave climbs to the top and finds himself in a tiny sort of loft that doesn't look supernatural in the least. It contains a bunch of overstuffed chairs and a couch with flowers all over it, and there are pictures everywhere. The entire back wall is literally covered with pictures, from baseboards to ceiling.
"Satisfied customers," a voice says, and Dave whirls to see a friendly-looking older woman. She is as ordinary as the room, dressed in blue pants and a yellow shirt with blue and purple flowers on it. It looks like the kind of outfit his grandma used to wear, and it's not at all what he'd expect of a... psychic? Hypnotist? Past life regressionist? He's not sure what her claim is.
"Sit down, dear. I'm here to help. I could hear you calling for it. You were practically screaming." She makes an airy gesture as if Dave should be able to see his phantom screams hanging between them. Shivering a little, Dave sits on the flowered couch.
"Would you like tea?" she asks, messing with a hot plate.
"No thank you," Dave says. "Listen, I don't have money. I can't pay you for whatever it is you're offering. I should just go."
She turns around, teacup in hand. "Luckily for you, I'm running a one-day special. Twenty-seven dollars."
Dave pats his pocket, but his wallet is still in there. Containing exactly twenty-seven dollars.
"I'm not in this for the money, David," she says, settling in the chair across from him. "People call out to me and I come. That's how it's always worked."
"I didn't call," he protests, but she waves her hand again.
"Are you interested in my services, David? There are plenty of people who need me. I won't waste my time if you don't."
"I'm still not sure what you're offering," Dave says, twisting his hands together in his lap. He can't believe he's about to give this woman his last twenty-seven bucks, but he is. He already knows it. He knew it when he got in the car. Hell, he knew it when he read the ad.
It's how he knows this is his rock bottom.
"I have the ability to send you back in time. Once you're there, you'll have three hundred hours to change what you need to change. You may choose your starting point. You needn't know the exact date or time, but the more detail you can give, the better. You mustn't tell anyone about this conversation or the magic I used or the spell will be broken and your efforts wasted. You will arrive back here with nothing changed. Provided you follow this rule, once your three hundred hours is up, you'll return to the present day."
"What happens in the present day?" Dave croaks, his throat dry.
"Well, if you've done all you need to do, theoretically, you'll have the life you desire. I must warn you, though. Not everyone awakes in the life they want. Some people have changed things for the worse. It all depends on you, though. What you do to change your life."
His breathing is coming hard and fast. He shouldn't believe a word of this, but his heart is already racing as he thinks of the possibilities. He tries to do some quick mental calculations. Three hundred hours is about twelve days or so. Not quite two weeks. There's a lot that can happen in twelve days.
With trembling hands, he pulls out his wallet and extracts the cash. "I know where I want to go. I want to go back to the day I kissed Kurt," he says, extending the bills. "That morning. Before school. Is that specific enough? I'm sorry, but I don't remember the date."
"That's specific enough," she says, putting the money in the pocket of her slacks. She leans forward, reaching for his hands. "Now just listen to my voice."
As he concentrates on breathing in and out, she starts speaking. It's not in English, he knows that much, but he imagines he can understand it. It's half song, half chant, and the words wash over him. He starts to get dizzy and the room goes a little dim. All he can see in front of him is a pair of hands, deceptively smooth for an older woman, squeezing his fingers tightly.
He closes his eyes and falls.