Luke Bandy is a world traveler, teacher, and storyteller. He is a graduate of the Long Ridge Writers Group and has earned his Master’s in Secondary Education. Recently, Luke returned from Prague where he taught English and creative writing. He now resides in Charleston, SC. More of his work can be found published in Ink Stains Literary Anthology, The Avenue, Ostrich Street Anthology, and Adelaide Literature Journal. For more information please visit www.lukebandy.com.
What He Knows Now
Daniel woke up that morning to a blaring alarm. Red digital numbers flashed 7:30 at him. He regretted forgetting to turn his alarm off. On Thursdays, he never got scheduled to work at the record store. Last night he fell asleep watching movies on his VCR and left his alarm set. White snow sang to him from the small tube screen in his room.
He sat up in his bed like a vampire rising from his coffin. The alarm continued to yell at him from across his room. He tried to turn the alarm off with a stare, but that didn't work for obvious reasons. Daniel forced himself to get up, lumber across the room, and smack the digital clock.
Daniel's muscles eased as he took in the silence. That's when he felt it. Something was different, but Daniel wasn't sure what it was. He didn't know it yet, but his 40-year-old self had sent his wisdom to Daniel from the future.
Daniel examined the stuff in his room. His electric guitar leaned against the wall without a stand. That made him nervous, which it never did before. The guitar could tip over and break the arm.
His memories were no different than they were before. Daniel didn't recall the experiences of his future self. But he'd gained the intuitions from what he learned in the future. He was still 17-year-old Daniel. But the way Daniel saw everything had changed. He knew now, what his future-self wished he knew then.
Piles of clothes littered the floor. Daniel found himself wondering what his room smelled like. He picked up some jeans and sniffed the crotch. Nothing, but he knew people could get used to their own stink, which he didn't know yesterday.
A knot tightened in his stomach. Daniel wondered if something was wrong with him but decided to blame waking up too early. He checked his wall calendar. The days were blank except for his work schedule and a note for today. It read Pick up Christa.
That was strange. Daniel felt he should be doing more than working. Before he contented himself watching movies and playing video games in his free time. Now he wanted to fill his schedule with trips, hangouts and exploring.
23 years in the future his calendar would look like this.
A screaming buzz filled the room again as the alarm clock snooze expired. Daniel flicked the FM button hard. The clock almost fell off his dresser. Smells Like Teen Spirit shrieked from the tiny speaker. Daniel winced and turned it off.
"Huh?" he muttered.
He loved Nirvana, but not anymore. Now he thought the radio overplayed them. Inside he knew there was better music out there. Record labels picked what they would play on the radio. It had nothing to do with what was good music. It was about money.
"What is wrong with me?" he asked the clothes scattered around the floor.
Daniel began to clean his room, worried it may smell. As he stuffed his laundry basket with jeans and t-shirts, he caught himself his bedroom mirror.
"What is this?" he asked himself as he ground the oily hair between his fingers. His long blonde hair looked out of place to him.
It looked like a rat's nest. The day before he saw it as a lion's mane. All cool guys in movies had long hair, but his new eyes saw the truth. Now the thought of cutting it crossed his mind.
His friends' reactions ran through his mind. What would they say if he cut his hair? What would Christa say?
"Christa," he said to himself. In the mirror. "Tonight. She wanted...wants to talk."
The words weighted with unknown importance. Daniel's mind existed in two moments. One that understood and one of confusion.
Daniel glanced down at his bed. The sheets were inviting and warm. But unlike yesterday, he'd hate himself if he went back to bed.
The smell of bacon and coffee wafted into his room. Daniel's stomach growled like he hadn't eaten in years.
He grabbed a pair of jeans from the drawer. They had two giant holes in the knees. He checked the rest of his jeans and discovered most of them had holes in them. He sighed and picked a pair with only one hole.
He threw on an old t-shirt and tied a flannel around his waist. He pulled on his Docs on and was ready for the day.
Daniel stared at his brown eyes in his reflection.
"What's different?" he asked his reflection.
"Something's changed, but I can't figure out what," his reflection answered.
"You need to figure out what's going on."
As he reached the bottom step, he saw his Mom cooking over a hot stove. He walked over to the coffee pot and poured a cup.
"Hey, handsome," his Mom greeted. "You're up early for a Thursday. Your Dad already left for work. You want breakfast?"
Daniel leaned against the counter, drinking his coffee.
"Sure," he said. "Thanks, Mom."
She gave him a second glance. Her face knitted in consideration.
"No cream and sugar, Danny?"
"Not anymore," he said between sips. "And I think I prefer Daniel now."
Her mother's intuition told her something was wrong. She watched Daniel glide across the room as she tossed two eggs into the pan. He held himself different. Before Daniel sulked and would be quiet. Now he walked tall with intense silence.
"What's on your mind?" she asked.
Daniel thought for a long moment. He couldn't say what was on his mind. So, he answered with a joke.
"All this hair," he smiled as he flicked his locks around.
She did a double-take as she slid the eggs onto a plate.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"I don't know. Maybe it's time for a change."
She walked over to him and placed his breakfast in front of him. Daniel began to eat, but he didn't gobble it down like usual. He ate slower and looked out the window while he chewed.
"Did you have a bad dream?" Daniel's Mom guessed this wasn't true, but it was all she could think to ask.
Daniel looked at her and smirked.
"No, Mom. Just trying to figure out some stuff."
He went back to his breakfast and the window while she cleaned up. It felt extra quiet like two strangers were in the room for the first time with nothing to say to each other.
"Who?" Daniel responded while his thoughts drifted. He considered the greys in the world. How things weren't black and white. Right or wrong. He questioned the existence of God, but then decided he had to exist. Daniel was processing all the things he would learn in the next 23 years over coffee and eggs.
He had forgotten that he was in love and that terrified his mother.
"Christa. How has she been, Daniel?" she asked. Daniel heard her worry and snapped out of his deep reflection.
"She's fine. We're meeting to talk about some stuff."
"Some stuff?" Her mother's intuition sensed something was wrong. "Did she specify what?"
Daniel shook his head as he drank the rest of his coffee.
"Daniel, you're acting too casual. She might have something serious to tell you. You love this girl."
Daniel used to be head over heels for Christa. She was sure he'd ask Christa to marry him at some point. She figured when he finished college. But Daniel acted like he didn't care.
"I love her?" Daniel didn't mean for it to come out as a question, but there were so many people out there he hadn't met yet. His Mom sat agape. "I just had a weird morning, Mom. Something changed in—"
The phone rang, cutting off his thought. Daniels Mom picked up the phone.
"Hello," his Mom answered. "Hello, Mark. He's right here."
She handed the phone to him.
His mother went back to cleaning as her son talked to his friend. Something was different about Daniel, and it concerned her.
"Okay," she heard her son say. "I'll drive you to the mall. But I need to borrow $15."
What is the $15 for? she wondered, but Daniel was out the door before she could ask.
The autumn wind blew through the car's open windows. Both boys' long hair flapped around their faces. Daniel sucked in the crisp air.
"I love this time of year," he commented to Mark.
Mark didn't pay attention. He pressed random buttons on his broken pager like a caveman.
"I can't believe I dropped this in the toilet," Mark bemused.
"You shouldn't have tried turning it on right away. If you tossed it in a bag with some dry rice, you might have salvaged it."
"How do you know that?"
Daniel took a moment to check his mirror as he changed lanes. This stood out to Mark because Daniel was a terrible driver. Once Mark watched Daniel almost drive head-on into a one-way street. But today Daniel's driving was smooth like he'd been doing it all his life.
"I'm not sure how I know," Daniel stated. Mark noted the concern in his friend's voice, but being 17-years-old didn't have the sense to inquire.
The two friends didn't speak for a while. They rolled past trees with orange-turning leaves. Zeppelin's Kashmir came on the radio, and Daniel turned it up.
"I thought you hated Led Zeppelin?" Mark questioned.
"I guess, not anymore," Daniel shrugged.
"You're acting weird, dude."
"That's probably true."
When they got to the mall, Daniel navigated between cement islands like a ship looking for a port. He parked and shut the engine off. The sun caused Daniel to squint his eyes, so he lowered the visor.
Both boys spotted a cigarette smoking kid leaning against the wall by the mall entrance. He wore an old army jacket that drooped on his skinny body.
"I know him," Daniel spoke as he looked at the specter of his childhood. He didn't realize that feeling came from his 40-year-self.
"Who? That guy?" Mark asked as he got out of the car.
"That kid in the jacket stole a girl from me."
"Kid?" Mark glanced up. Mark watched as the guy stomp out his cigarette and walk inside. The guy was the same age as them.
"And he mocks me for a being a Christian."
"What?" Mark grumbled. "Why don't you beat the shit out of him?"
Mark never avoided an opportunity to fight. He was big and liked to tussle. This attitude led him to fight no one because most people don't want to fight someone that likes to fight.
"I think I did," Daniel shook his head. "No. That's not right. I do beat him up. But should I?"
"You're talking all crazy," Mark told him. "I like it. Let's go get him."
Daniel's new wisdom collided with the feelings of his youth. They fought for balance inside of him.
The cigarette smoking kid was Parker. He had been a plague on Daniel for the past several years.
"Hey, there's the Christian boy," Parker would yell at him in the halls of the school. Or something like, "I'm a devil!"
These weren't even insults, but it was demeaning. But Daniel remained a "good Christian" and let it go. Then Parker lied to Daniel's high school crush to make sure she'd never date him. It devastated Daniel.
Daniel enrolled in a private school a few months later.
"He ruined my life," Daniel said to Mark.
"Cool. More reasons to go have a talk with the jackass."
"I was angry for a long time. Then I met Christa."
"Wait, that kid," Mark pointed at the mall. "He's the reason you switched schools. Let's kill him."
"No. I'll take care of it."
Daniel spoke with clarity that made Mark let the issue go.
Inside the mall, the two friends went their separate ways. Mark went to the pager kiosk to fix his broken toy while Daniel went to cut his hair. Mark lent Daniel the money for the haircut but never asked what it was for.
The actual haircut was uneventful. Daniel walked in and asked a random girl he'd never met to cut his rat's nest off. He didn't bother with any frills. She cut it short with a little bit of styling.
Daniel ran his fingers through his hair as he left the hair salon. He strolled past store after store and then stopped in front of a mirror. The short hair made him look taller. Two small holes in his white t-shirt and ripped jeans stood out to him. He shifted the flannel around his waist to try and cover them up.
"Geez," he said to his reflection. "Do I own anything without holes?
His reflection didn't get a chance to answer. Parker's reflection appeared in the mirror as he snuck up behind Daniel. At first, Daniel braced himself, thinking Parker was going to push him into the mirror. Parker had the habit of shoving him at lockers in the school halls.
Instead, Parker got close behind him and with a guttural voice declared, "I am the demon god!"
If Daniel didn't have the wisdom of his 40-year-old self, he would have turned around and punched Parker. The bully would have backed off in surprise, then fight back, giving Daniel a bloody nose. It would end with Daniel grabbing Parker and kneeing him the face.
Daniel didn't do that, though. His intuition knew the trouble he'd get into for fighting at the mall. Daniel didn't turn around or respond. He walked away like Parker was invisible.
"Your haircut looks dumb," Parker taunted as he followed. "Did you lose your strength like Samson?"
That made Daniel face his advisory. Parker smirked like he had made the final move in a chess game.
"I'm surprised you know who Samson is, Parker. Do you study the Bible just to make fun of me?"
"I only read the Satanic Bible," Parker mocked.
"What's wrong with you?"
"I just hate your fucking face." Anger rippled through Parker's voice. At this point, Daniel racked his mind for anything he did to create such hate. He concluded that it wasn't his fault, but something another Christian did to him.
Daniel 40-year-old brain had his own problems with some Christians, yet he was a Christian too. It was a conundrum.
"You know Samson didn't lose his strength because of his hair," Daniel explained. "It was because he didn't listen."
"What the fuck do I care about that?"
"Because I'm going to ask you to listen and leave other Christians and me alone."
"I will if I have to," Daniel said. His voice was so calm it took Parker off-guard. It made the threat seem real, and it was. "I think I did before. So, I know I can do it again."
"What are you talking about?" Parker took a step back in caution.
"I'm not sure what your issues are, but they're your issues," Daniel continued. "I don't need you taking out your crap on me. And no one else does either."
People eyed the two teenagers. Passersby felt the tension between the two of them.
"I don't have issues," Parker claimed. "You have issues." Parker wasn't yelling, but he became louder. Daniel spotted a security guard watching them from behind a plant. Parker didn't take notice of the unwanted attention they were receiving.
Daniel saw Parker's clenched fist. Daniel had unnerved him.
"This conversation is over." Daniel put his hands up in surrender, hoping to end the conflict.
"This conversation is over," Parker imitated. Daniel found this immature, but it still irked him. Parker could read that and continued to pry. "I'm not sure what your issues are. I don't need your crap. I know I can do it again."
Hearing his own words spat back at him made Daniel cringe. Even with the intuition of his older self, he found Parker's attack affective. Turns out a bully's words hurt even when someone knew they meant nothing.
Daniel fought back wiping Parker's smug expression off his face with his fist. The two rivals stared each other down like two gunslingers. Neither flinched as they waited for the other to make a move. Then Daniel put on a smug grin of his own.
"What are you smiling about?" Parker scoffed.
"I think you have more issues to deal with."
Parker didn't get a chance to decrypt Daniel's words. Mark's giant paw grabbed the back of Parker's army jacket. The skinny bully panicked when he realized what was going on. He managed to slip out of his jack like an eel. Parker tripped and fell to the marble tile floor.
Mark towered over Parker, holding the army jacket in his hand. Mark smiled like a crocodile at the cowering bully. Parker scrambled to his feet and sprinted down the mall.
Mark moved to go after him, but Daniel laid a hand on his chest to stop him.
"Leave him," Daniel advised. "He's not worth it."
Daniel eyed the security guard, watching them through the plant.
Mark furrowed his brow at his friend.
"What did you do to your hair?" He asked.
"What did you think the fifteen bucks was for?"
"Was this your Mom's idea?" Mark questioned.
"If it were, she would have given me the money. No, this was my decision."
"You're like a completely different person today."
"Yeah, I'm piecing that together."
"Whatever," Mark shrugged. "As long as it was your choice."
Mark referred to Daniel's short hair, but Daniel contemplated every choice he'd made that day.
Christa sat on the front pew staring at the stain glass window of the sanctuary. She had finished her play practice, and everyone else had left. Christa waited for her boyfriend to pick her up. Thoughts ran through her head. Her stomach clenched every time she tried to guess how he would react.
She told herself this would be fine. No matter Danny's reaction. Christa sat mind racing for over an hour. She found it odd that Danny would be late. He'd never been late before.
Did he know something was wrong?
Her face flushed at the thought. The door to the sanctuary creaked, causing her to jump. Christa turned to see Danny marching into the sanctuary.
Her eyes transfixed on him. Danny had cut his hair.
"Sorry I'm late," he said. Danny's gait had changed. His slouch disappeared, and he walked with purpose. "I ended up having to explain a situation at the mall. It's been an afternoon."
Danny sat beside her on the pew. He let out a sigh as he relaxed. The large cross in the window cast a shadow on his face.
"I've never noticed the smell of this place before. It's like a combination of must and old lacquer," Danny commented.
Christa tried to speak but choked on her own words.
"Are you okay?" he said to her. "You look pale."
"Yo-you cut your hair, Danny?" she stuttered.
"Yeah, I wasn't feeling it anymore. And it's Daniel now."
Christa sat paralyzed in shock. One thing she loved was short-haired guys. But Danny refused to cut his. It was the one thing he'd never do for her. Then out of nowhere, he shows up without it.
"Daniel?" She said like it may not be him. Did she address an imposter?
"Yeah," he waited a moment for her to say more, but she didn't. "Oh, you wanted to talk to me about something?"
Christa didn't want to tell him now. This wasn't Danny. She was deep in uncharted waters.
"So, what is it? You really don't look good," he continued.
Despite every nerve in her body feeling on fire, she managed to start.
"Um, I went over Tommy Rogers house while you were at work last Saturday."
Christa braced herself for an emotional outburst.
Would he yell? Cry? Walkout?
He didn't do any of that. He looked right at Christa, waiting for her to finish.
"You remember Tommy, right?"
"Of course. Tommy's your old crush." He remained calm, which relieved her and scared her too.
"Well, we went swimming in his pool," she went on.
Still, Daniel remained stoic.
"And one thing led to another, and we kissed."
"Oh, crap." He said it like he forgot an errand to run.
"We made out," she squeaked.
"Why am I not surprised?" Daniel glanced at the cross. It was a question he actually wanted the answer to. "I think I knew this was going to happen."
"What do you mean?" Christa's head spun. "How would you know?"
Daniel got up and walked onto the church stage. He stood right under the cross, staring up at it.
"I know now, what I'll know one day," he told the cross. "That's got to be it."
Christa looked around, hoping someone else would show up. Her boyfriend had lost it, that seemed for sure. Yet, at the same time, she found the new him fascinating.
"I think we lost the plot, Christa," he turned and said to her from the stage.
"What do you mean?"
"You know how many people at this church wanted me to cut my hair. Or stop listening to secular music." Daniel air quoted that last bit as he began to come off the stage. "Like the things we do get us into heaven."
He stopped in front of her and shook his head.
"That's all bullshit. It doesn't work that way."
Her eyes widen like a 40s cartoon. Christa had never heard him swear.
"I've been such a weird mixture of rebelling and doing as asked," He spoke to an invisible congregation. "I think it's time to have consistency."
Christa saw a knew sureness in him. She couldn't piece together what he was talking about, though.
"Listen, Danny," she began.
"Daniel," he corrected.
"Right, well, I'm sorry for what happened. I'm not sure why you're acting this way, but I think you're taking it well."
He sat down next to her and leaned forward.
"The first time I didn't react well. I was blind-sided. It crushed me and left me broken for years. But after a lot of healing, I got better."
"The details aren't there, but I know that's what happened."
Christa imagined Daniel crying over her betrayal. That's what she expected. But this reaction she could have never predicted.
"I thought you were the one. I was going to marry you," Daniel laughed. "Kids marrying kids."
Daniel stood back up and extended his hand. Christa took it, and he pulled her up.
"But none of it will happen now."
"Before we tried to make it work. And you cheated again. But you're not getting that chance," he stated.
Christa's eyes welled.
"Come on," he let go of her hand. "Let's get out of here."
"That's it?" She choked back tears.
"Yeah. What did you expect?"
Daniel walked away from her. He passed each pew, one by one, until he reached the double doors leading out. He paused when he realized she wasn't behind him. Christa stood near the stage, below the cross, with her arms folded around her.
"I'd love it if we had made it." Daniel's voice echoed through the empty sanctuary.
"Who are you?" She asked. Daniel only saw her silhouette from the light shining through the stained glass.
"I'm not sure. I guess that's something I'll be figuring out."
Those were his final words before walking out of the church.
Daniel would go on to use his new wisdom to tell a different story with his life. He would still make mistakes, have regrets, and cry himself to sleep on lonely nights. But he wouldn't have to relearn the lessons that he'd learned at 40.
Then when he becomes 40 again, he'll do the same thing. Daniel will gain the ability to send his learned intuition and wisdom to his younger self.
He'll wake up on a Thursday with twice the amount intuition. He'll talk with his Mom, encounter Parker, cut his hair, and break up with Christa. Then he'll go on to become 40 again and send his wisdom back.
This would happen over and over.
It'll be an endless cycle of trying to change the past, only to want to change it again.
In the end, Daniel never has an end. He's a loop of second guesses and fresh starts. And he never sees a day past 40.